Your child’s first set of teeth, the primary teeth, are extremely important. Strong, healthy primary teeth help your child chew food easily, learn to speak clearly, and look good. Just as important, your child’s general health can be affected if diseased and broken primary teeth are not treated early.
Your baby can grow up cavity-free if you start good dental care early. Babies use their mouth not only for the obvious things, like eating and communicating their needs, but also for expressing feelings, exploring their world, and for their own personal security.
You have probably noticed that your baby derives much pleasure from sucking, an important and satisfying activity which is a normal part of their development. Babies begin sucking their thumbs and fingers before they are born. Sucking actually serves an important purpose; it helps strengthen and develop oral muscles, which in turn help position the teeth in their proper position as they appear. Most children give up the sucking habit by four to five years of age. If your child hasn’t they may need help. See your paediatric dentist immediately!
Around six months of age, your baby’s first shiny white tooth will usually appear typically in the lower jaw. This eruption of primary teeth is called ‘teething’. Minor discomfort is associated with teething, and some of the symptoms you will see include irritability, sore or inflamed gums, excessive drooling of saliva, loss of appetite, a change in eating habits or difficulty in sleeping. These should not cause alarm and are to be expected. However, if your baby experiences other problems during teething process such as rash, fever or vomiting, consult your paediatrician.
The best thing to do to ease discomfort is to clean your baby’s mouth with a damp gauze pad, two or three times daily. You may consider a pacifier, teething ring or other teething accessories and toys your child can chew. Make sure the object is big enough so it can’t be swallowed, or break into small pieces. Stay away from liquid-filled rubber teething rings, which can break or leak, and do not freeze them to the point that they are frozen solid, as this may only aggravate sensitive gums. Give your baby a mild pain reliever that is labelled for his/her specific age, but NEVER without first consulting your paediatrician to see if it is alright to do so,
and if so, what the right dosage should be.
Early childhood caries or baby bottle tooth decay
Baby bottle tooth decay is a dental condition that can destroy the teeth of an infant or young child. This single condition probably causes more pain and suffering in small children than all other conditions combined, and it is so easily preventable. It occurs when a child’s teeth are frequently exposed to sugary liquids for long periods. Among these are milk (including breast milk), infant formula, fruit juice, soft drinks and other sweetened liquids.
When a baby is put to bed with a bottle, the liquid drips into the mouth continuously. It collects around the teeth as long as the bottle is in the mouth; this is like sending the baby to bed with a mouthful of candy!
The teeth most likely to be damaged are the upper front teeth, but other teeth can also be damaged. Your child’s first set of teeth – the ‘baby’ or primary teeth – are very important in helping your child chew food easily, learn to speak clearly, and look attractive. Decay in primary teeth can affect the child’s erupting permanent teeth, cause pain, and can be associated with general health problems in some children. Therefore, to avoid future problems, it’s important to keep primary (baby/milk) teeth healthy.
It’s not just what children drink, but how often and for how long their teeth are exposed to decay-causing substances. That is why, frequently offering your child a bottle containing sugary liquid as a pacifier, or allowing your child to fall asleep with a bottle during naps or at night, can do serious harm to the teeth.
You can prevent this from happening to your child’s teeth by learning how to protect them.
- Clean your child’s teeth daily
- Never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle filled with juice, milk or infant formula (or when awake, sip on it for long periods of time as a pacifier)
- Start bottle weaning by the end of the first year
- Give your child plain water for thirst
- Have regular visits to the paediatric dentist, beginning when the child’s first tooth erupts
Oral habits in children
When we speak of oral habits, we are typically speaking of any thumb, finger,or pacifier habits that may be causing damaging effects to the normal growth and development of the orofacial structures. This type of sucking is completely normal for babies and young children, as it provides a kind of security for them.
Most children stop sucking thumbs, pacifiers, or fingers on their own between the ages of two to four years. No harm is done to their teeth or jaws. However, some children continue these habits much longer, and this is where problems can occur.
Habits can be responsible for a number of problems. Thumb and finger habits can cause an anterior opening of the bite, facial movement of the upper incisors (protruded teeth), lingual movement of the lower incisors, and constriction (narrowing) of the upper arch.
Lip sucking and lip biting can procline the maxillary incisors and retrocline the mandibular incisors. Tongue thrusting and mouth breathing may also play a part in the creation of a malocclusion. An anterior open bite coupled with incompetent lips (when the lips are kept apart both when awake and during sleep) is the most common dental problem associated with these anomalies.
The other common problem seen in children these days is grinding of teeth (night grinding or bruxism). This condition is noticed mostly during sleep, but can also occur when the child is awake.
Any oral problem or condition in children can be prevented or treated if proper care is taken during the developmental years.
Regular visits to a paediatric dentist will help in identifying and managing these problems.