Wellness & Fitness

How to care for your baby’s teeth

teeth

Dental caries in a baby. PHOTO | COURTESY

How well do you know how to care of your baby’s teeth? The truth is most parents assume things will just fall into place when it comes to children’s teeth. However, there’s a lot a parent can do to care for their child’s oral health.

Dr Aisha Mohamed, a Consultant Dentist with special interest in Paediatric dentistry at Aga Khan University Hospital Nairobi answers questions most parents have regarding dental care for their children.

***

Are baby teeth important?

Most parents often think that baby teeth fall out so they are less important and do not need the same level of care and attention as adult teeth. This is far from the truth.

Baby teeth allow children to eat, help with speech development, guide the adult teeth into the correct position and make them smile. Unfortunately, every day we see children suffering from dental-related diseases, they are in pain and this affects their nutrition, sleep, behaviour and performance at school.

What diseases affect my baby’s teeth?

Dental caries is the most common disease affecting children. Worldwide, an estimated 520 million children suffer from tooth decay. This poses a major burden of disease to families and health care systems.

What is dental caries?

Dental caries is a bacteria-mediated breakdown of tooth structure caused by poor cleaning and high sugar diet. This results in holes in the teeth which if not treated progress to the nerve and became very painful and can get infected.

How can I prevent dental caries?

There are three main ways to prevent tooth caries:

—Brush twice daily especially before bedtime with an appropriate amount of fluoride toothpaste. Help children brush their teeth until they are 7 to 8 years old. —0-3 years should use toothpaste the size of a grain of rice.

— 3-6 years should use toothpaste the size of pea.

—Reduce the frequency of high sugar foods and drinks consumed during the day. Limit treats like candy and chocolates to once a week and opt for healthier snacks with no added sugar. —Visit the dentist regularly so that the disease can be recognised early.

At what age can my child start seeing a dentist?

By the age of one year or when the first tooth erupts, whichever comes first. It’s important to establish a ‘dental home’ for the child, a place where they are familiar. This is an opportunity to create a good foundation for long term oral health.

Is the water safe to drink?

Water is the safest drink to prevent dental caries. However, parents should be aware of the fluoride content in water used for drinking and cooking.

Sources like boreholes have high levels of fluoride which can adversely affect the development of teeth, resulting in a condition called fluorosis where teeth appear brown and mottled. Safe water fluoride level is below 0.7mg/litre.

What can I do if my child is teething?

Massage the gums with a clean finger or use chilled cloth dipped in water or breastmilk or chilled teeth rings or toys. Avoid teething gels, especially under the age of 2 years old.

If symptoms are severe, over-the-counter sugar-free pain relief medication can be used but if symptoms persist seek medical advice.

What should I do when I see swellings in my baby’s gums?

There is a widespread traditional practice referred to as Infant Oral Mutilation (IOM) which involves extraction of developing un-erupted baby teeth owing to corresponding swellings seen in the gums.

These are mistaken for worms that cause diarrhoea and fever. The non-sterile conditions give rise to an extremely high risk of septiceamia, tetanus, and transmission of blood-borne diseases such as HIV/Aids.

Teething, weaning and children-discovering by putting objects in their mouths usually coincide.

However, there is no evidence linking diarrhoea and fever to teething. If there are any concerns with regard to the child’s well-being, seek medical advice. The effects of this practice can be fatal and early loss of baby teeth will have major effects on the alignment of teeth.

What if my child’s teeth are not straight?

Seeing a dentist regularly enables close monitoring of the child’s dental growth and development. If teeth are maligned this may need to be corrected with orthodontic treatment (braces) and the dentist can advise on when this should be done and how.

What can be done if my child has dental caries?

Depending on the severity of the disease, we usually recommend a restoration (filling), root canal treatment or extraction. There are many minimally invasive procedures which are less painful for children but only if the disease is recognised early. So avoid postponing care until the child is in pain.

What should I do if my child falls and injures their teeth?

Dental trauma is common in children, and its effects can be long-lasting. It is important to see a dentist for an assessment and treatment as soon as possible. The injury where immediate action is needed is when a child loses an adult tooth completely (avulsion).

In this case, find the tooth, handle it with the crown only, briefly rinse with water if dirty, place the tooth back in its position, stabilise with a cloth and immediately see a dentist. If it cannot be re-implanted put it in a container of milk or saliva and see the dentist.

What are the main points to remember?

—Let’s make oral health a priority

— Brush teeth effectively with fluoride toothpaste

—Avoid sugary foods and drinks

— Regularly see a dentist

Dr Aisha Mohamed, Consultant Dentist with special interest in Paediatric dentistry at Aga Khan University Hospital Nairobi