Worldwide, 3 out of 5 children suffer from oral diseases, such as tooth decay and gum disease, which can affect their eating, speaking and smiling. It can also cause pain and have negative consequences for the development of their adult teeth, nutrition, self-confidence, and overall wellbeing. Dental caries (tooth decay or cavities), caused by the interaction of bacteria and sugary foods on tooth enamel, is the single most common chronic, infectious childhood disease.
Just like other major diseases, prevention, early detection and treatment are key to ensuring the best outcomes and reducing the risk for oral diseases and associated health complications. The good news is that tooth decay, although one of the most prevalent diseases in children younger than 6 years old, is almost entirely preventable. Parents can protect their children’s teeth and prevent more serious oral health problems by instilling the importance of good dental hygiene, early. Tooth decay can be prevented by tooth brushing, the limited intake of food and drinks high in sugar and carbohydrates and regular dental check-ups.
Tooth brushing is the most effective way of removing dental plaque from the exposed surface of teeth, thereby reducing the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Start to clean your baby’s teeth as soon as the first tooth pushes through. Brush their teeth with a smear of fluoride toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice) on a child-sized toothbrush with soft bristles. Teach toddlers to brush their teeth for two minutes, twice daily– after breakfast and before bedtime – using a fluoride toothpaste. Regular use of fluoride toughens the enamel, making it harder for acid to penetrate. Children cannot brush their teeth without help until they’re older—about six to eight years old. You will therefore need to supervise your child to ensure that the brush removes all the plaque.
Limit intake of foods and drinks high in sugar and carbohydrates
Your child’s diet plays a key role in his dental health. Sugary foods, juices, soft drinks, sports drinks and sweets (especially sticky sugar, i.e. caramel, toffee, gummies or dried fruit) can erode enamel and cause cavities. Limit your child’s intake of sugars to approximately 3 teaspoons daily. Unfortunately, a recent global survey showed that less than half (38%) of parents limit their children’s sugary food and drink intake to ensure good oral health. Encourage children to drink water rather than fruit juices or sugary beverages when thirsty. Choose healthy, natural, unprocessed snacks like fruits, vegetables, berries, cheese, yoghurt and nuts or trail mix.
Schedule regular dental check-ups
Take your child to the dentist after the first tooth has pushed through and no later than his / her first birthday. Visiting the dentist from a young age will help your child be more comfortable. It also establishes the good habit of regular dental check-ups. As part of the dental check-up, the dentist will make sure all teeth are developing normally, and that there are no dental problems. Cooperate with the dentist to secure your child’s oral and general health.
- Hakan Çolak, Çoruh T. Dülgergil, Mehmet Dalli, Mehmet Mustafa Hamidi, Early childhood caries update: A review of causes, diagnoses, and treatments, J Nat Sci Biol Med. 2013 Jan-Jun; 4(1): 29–38. doi: 10.4103/0976-9668.107257.