Three very important factors that parents should consider with regards to their children’s dentition are their diet, oral hygiene routine and regular dental check-ups.
What your child eats and drinks affects the health of their teeth and the shape of their teeth. Sugary food and drinks create an acidic environment for bacteria to thrive on. The bacteria then start to demineralise the tooth’s surface, in other words, the tooth starts to decay.
If consumed in high amounts, fizzy and citric drinks, such as lemonade, can also erode your child’s teeth and alter their shape and height as a consequence. This happens especially with children who tend to hold the drink in their mouths for a few seconds before swallowing it. Drinking through a straw can help protect their teeth from eroding.
So does that mean you should not feed your child any sugar? No, it does not! It is the frequency of sugar rather than the quantity of sugar that parents should worry about.
• Oral Hygiene Routine
Children should make it a habit to brush their teeth twice a day everyday with fluoride toothpaste. This keeps their teeth clean as well as maintains the health of their gums. The fluoride in the toothpaste plays an important role in remineralising and strengthening the enamel, which is the first outer layer of the tooth. The quantity of fluoride present in toothpastes is a small amount and will not harm your child if they swallow small amounts of it by mistake.
Children up to six years of ages should use children’s toothpaste and their tooth brushing should be supervised by their parents. I always advise parents to let their child have a go at brushing his/her teeth first before the parent takes over so that they develop their skills at brushing.
Children of six years of age and above can switch to using adult’s toothpaste as it has a higher concentration of fluoride.
A commonly asked question by parents is ‘when should my child start flossing?’. A good time for your child to start flossing is when all his/her adult teeth have come through. This will vary from one person to the next but the average age is 12 to 13 years of age.
• Regular Dental Check-Ups
Taking your child to the dentist regularly from an early age has many benefits:
It reduces anxiety as the child grows up
It enables the dentist to monitor and maintain the health of your child’s teeth and gums
It allows the dentist to advise the child and parents on diet and oral hygiene as necessary
It enables the dentist to spot problems early on and so prevent extensive or more complicated treatment in future
It allows the dentist to spot the need for braces
It allows the dentist to apply concentrated fluoride varnish on your child’s teeth to reduce the risk of teeth decay
Tips for moms on how to deal with their kids at the dentist
• Prepare them at home before their dental visit by explaining what a dentist does and what will happen during their check-up. This can be done in a fun way by telling them a story for example. There are also a few story books with nice illustrations or photos for children about dentists/dental visits. If the parent reads one of these books with their child before the appointment, it may make the whole experience more fun and relaxed as the child would know what to expect and will not be taken by surprise during his/her appointment.
• Mothers could also explain to their child the importance of going to the dentist and that it is essential to have healthy, clean strong teeth. Sometimes using superheros or cartoon characters as an example can help. For example, Superman is strong and has strong teeth – if the child likes Superman then he/she would also want to have strong teeth just like Superman.
• Some mothers are anxious about dental treatment but it is important that they do not show their fear in front of their children as this will scare them as well. Mothers should hide their fear and encourage their children to attend for regular check-ups.
• I always suggest to mothers to avoid using the word ‘injection’ in front of their children. Nobody likes injections, especially kids, so why bring it up in conversation? The first thing to consider, is that some dental treatments can be done without the use of an injection so there is no need to mention it in the first instance. Secondly, it is often possible to give the patient an injection without them realising that it is an injection.
• I also tend to avoid using words such as ‘drill’ or phrases such as ‘drilling your tooth’. I call my drill ‘Mr waterspray’ or ‘Mr buzzy’ and say ‘Mr buzzy will tickle your tooth’ which most of the time makes the child giggle and smile.
• If the patient is being uncooperative during their treatment or refuse to have treatment done, then it would be helpful if mothers assist the dentist by talking to their child and by using positive re-enforcement to help their child relax and cooperate. At the end of the day, as dentists we cannot force the patient to have treatment, so it is up to the parent to be persistent if they wish.