Expert dental advice

While I was in India a few weeks ago, I was chatting to my cousin’s wife who is a paediatric dentist when the thought dawned on me that many of the questions I was asking were questions that most mom’s have, especially new moms. So at my request she kindly agreed to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about children’s dental health.

1. When should I start brushing my babies’ teeth?

You should start brushing your babies’ teeth as soon as the first tooth erupts in the mouth. This is because the main organism causing decay (str. mutans) are seen as soon as the first tooth erupts. You should use a soft finger brush initially and soon shift to a soft baby tooth brush. However, oral hygiene should be practiced much before that i.e. cleaning the baby’s gumpads after every feed (bf/ff)

2. Can decay/cavities be caused by bottle-feeding or by breast feeding?

Both. One of the main causes of cavities in children before the age of 5 yrs (early childhood cavities) is bottle-feeding. The formula milk given to babies has sugars, which is given at naptime and before bed, and in the absence of oral hygiene measures, the sugars remain in the mouth (swallowing is also absent as the child is sleeping). This gives a good 6-8 hours for the bacteria to produce acid in the presence of these sugars. Breast milk also causes cavities. It is true that breast milk has antibodies that fight streptococcus mutans (cavity causing bacteria), however, with lack of oral hygiene breast milk also causes decay.

3. Can decay spread from mother or caregiver to the child?

Yes, decay can spread from mother/caregiver to the child. This happens while kissing, blowing food, sharing spoons, etc. Studies have shown that mothers with active decay have children with increased amounts of streptococcus mutans.

4. When should I take my child to the dentist or when should the child have their 1st dental visit?

The first dental visit as most organizations recommend should be at the 1st birthday or within 6 months after the first tooth erupts. In this visit, the dentist will check the baby’s teeth; explain the oral hygiene procedures, dietary information, etc.

5. How can I check my child for decay at home?

You can check for white/black spots on surface of the teeth in the front teeth. Apparent black spots with loss of tooth structure indicate tooth decay. However, the decay between two teeth will be difficult to see by the naked eye. Also, white spots seen indicate early decay. At this stage decay can be reversed. Also, stains maybe misleading. Hence if you are unsure, a dentist visit should be made.

6. My child has a thumb/ pacifier sucking habit. Should I be worried?

Thumb sucking and pacifier sucking habits are considered normal up to the age of 3 years. Pacifier habits are however easy to intercept, as long as that pacifier habit is not replaced by thumb sucking. Thumb sucking after the age of 3-4 yrs., can cause malocclusions in children (open bite, deep palate, constricted arches, etc) At this stage, a paediatric dentist needs to intervene. An appliance is usually given to the child (a reminder appliance) which stops the habit.

7. My child won’t stop snacking on junk food or candies. How is this harmful?

Starchy foods like crisps can be harder on a child’s teeth than candy. Starchy foods get stuck in between teeth and in hard to reach crevices giving bacteria plenty of sugar to feed off! It is difficult to motivate children to stop/keep away from crisps and candies. But, with healthier choices it does become easy. Snacking foods given to kids should be nuts, cheese, fruits, salads, whole wheat breads, etc. Perhaps keep a “treat box” for your child that they’re allowed to indulge in once a week. In this way, the sugar attacks are greatly reduced. A child is also less tempted when sugar/junk food isn’t readily available at home.

8. Which foods prevent cavities/tooth decay?

Just like there are foods that can cause decay there are foods that can prevent tooth decay. Fibrous foods have a cleansing action on the surface of the teeth. (Vegetables, fruits, and salads). Nuts like almonds, peanuts, cashew nuts, pine nuts, etc. indirectly prevent tooth decay. Cheese has proven to be a very good source in cavity prevention as well.

You can find more information here.

Thanks Netika!! 🙂


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