Taking Care Of Your Child’s Dental Health: Part 1 – Prevention
Oral health has been closely linked to the overall health of our entire body. So taking care of your child’s dental health and introducing them to good oral habits early on will not only ensure that they have beautiful smiles, but also that they are protected from any long term negative effects.
Preventive dental healthcare is therefore a very important part of your child’s overall wellness. Maintaining healthy teeth requires good dental hygiene, eating habits as well as regular check-ups with your dentist to catch problems early. Even for young kids, keeping baby teeth healthy can help the permanent teeth grow out properly and prevent any long term orthodontic problems.
Here are some ways that you can proactively take care of your child’s dental health.
Regular dental check-ups are important to keep your teeth and gums healthy. During a regular dental visit, your doctor will do an overall examination of the child’s teeth – checking for cavities, plaque or tartar build up and any other issues. She will examine their gums, tongue and face and depending on the child’s age assess their overall jaw and dental development. She may also perform a professional teeth cleaning, called ‘scaling’, to rid the teeth of tartar. You should bring your child for a regular dental visit at least every 6 months or as recommended by your doctor. These visits also help you and your doctor monitor your child for signs such as crowded, missing or crooked teeth, and any bite or jaw issues, which might indicate the requirement for orthodontic work in the future. Your doctor would also check your child for habits like thumb sucking, mouth breathing and tongue trusting. Catching these signs early can be extremely helpful to guide teeth properly as they emerge , and for orthodontic interventions and recovery.
Cavities or tooth decay are one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood. Cavities are caused when bacteria in the teeth release acids that erode the tooth enamel over time. Left untreated, cavities can lead to tooth decay and serious health problems. So early cavity prevention is extremely important. Besides brushing and regular check-ups, sealants and fluoride application provide an additional level of protection against cavities. In fact, sealants have been shown to reduce the risk of decay by nearly 80% in molars.
Sealants are a thin, plastic protective coating, placed on the chewing (occlusal) surface of the permanent back teeth (molars), acting sort of like raincoats on your teeth. They fill the deep grooves in the teeth where bacteria like to grow, and which are hard for children to properly clean by brushing. After a sealant is applied, it also keeps the food bits out and prevents bacteria and acid from building up on the teeth.
Professional teeth cleaning, or scaling, by the dentist are an important part of the preventive healthcare routine for your child. It is extremely important to take your child for regular check-ups and cleaning. Unless you follow a strict and proper brushing habit, teeth may develop plaque – a clear, sticky layer of bacteria. If it is not removed, over time it can harden and become tartar. Tartar cannot be removed by brushing alone. If you let plaque and tartar build up on your teeth, they can cause oral diseases.
So the cleaning of teeth is a preventative measure against periodontal (gum) disease and tooth decay, referred to as Prophylaxis. Scaling uses special tools to clear out the plaque and calculus from the surface of tooth, within periodontal pockets, and gums. Regular cleaning of your child’s teeth will not only keep tartar away, but also keep their gums healthy and prevent cavities and other oral diseases.
Fluoride therapy is the delivery of fluoride to the teeth, topically or systemically, to protect them from dental caries (cavities). Research has shown that fluoride not only reduces cavities in children, but it also helps repair the early stages of tooth decay, even before the decay is visible.
When fluoride is absorbed by the enamel of the teeth, it helps replenish the lost calcium and phosphorous through a process called remineralization, which hardens and strengthens your teeth, thus preventing tooth decay. While fluoride may naturally present in your child’s diet including drinking water, infant formula, prepared foods, and toothpaste, they may not be getting sufficient levels. Your dentist can evaluate if your child needs additional fluoride, and can recommend supplements if required.
It is normal for little kids to develop habits like thumb sucking, as a way to sooth themselves. While most kids stop this habit on their own, those who don’t may need help to break the habit, especially before their permanent teeth erupt. Many dental alignment problems arise from poor or incorrect habits like thumb sucking, an incorrect swallowing action, mouth breathing and others, which can move the teeth into unfavourable positions. Other very routinely missed habits are mouth breathing and tongue thrusting. Both these habits lead to poor teeth and jaw positions, unaesthetic appearance and a tendency to get cavities.
Your dentist will advise your child on simple exercises to break their habits, which will allow the tooth positions to naturally correct themselves with growth. However, depending on the degree of severity, she may also use habit-breaking appliances.
In case due to any reason, a child looses a baby tooth way before the expected shedding time, a space maintainer is placed in its place to maintain the space it leaves behind for its permanent counterpart. They also prevent irregular shifting and crowding of new teeth.