“Don’t worry about baby teeth too much; they fall out anyway…”
As tempting as it may be to think the above is true, it’s simply not. Your child’s primary teeth are essential. Without their primary teeth, children are robbed of their overall health, future dental health e.g. tooth damage and poor alignment) and a lifetime of unnecessary financial expense and pain. It’s vital you look after their baby teeth well, and teach your kids how to develop good oral hygiene habits they will keep for the rest of their lives.
- Your child’s primary (aka milk or baby) teeth are vitally important
- Primary teeth act as space holders for adult teeth, ensuring good alignment for the adult teeth when they push through
- Infected primary teeth can infect or retard the growth of adult teeth developing underneath
- Early childhood cavities (kids dental disease) can result in pain, tooth loss, emergency hospitalisation, poor nutrition, poor tooth development, overall growth retardation, social problems and significant, avoidable financial expense.
- Avoid giving tots and children sugary drinks and foods and take proper care of their oral hygiene
- Take your child to the dentist regularly for checkups
- Your child’s first visit should be at age 12 months or when their first tooth erupts, whichever happens first
Taking care of your child’s oral hygiene shouldn’t be a big deal. And fortunately, it’s not that hard. But first, let’s take a look at what would happen if you neglected your child’s oral hygiene because sadly, many people do. Early childhood caries (ECC) is on the rise throughout the world – in both developing and industrialised countries. Although entirely preventable, ECC is the most common chronic infectious disease of childhood today.
ECC is called several names from country to country, for example, early childhood tooth decay, early childhood caries, baby bottle-fed tooth decay, early childhood dental decay, comforter caries, nursing caries, and rampant caries, but it all amounts to the same thing.
Due to the presence of sugars, bacteria in the mouth breakdown sugars for energy, causing an acidic environment in the mouth which eats away at the enamel causing dental caries.
As some of the names suggests, one of the common causes of ECC is allowing your baby to go to sleep while feeding them sugary beverages in a bottle. However, this is not the only way a child can develop cavities or caries. Feeding children sugary foods, giving tots and children sugary beverages throughout the day, dipping dummies in honey or syrup, sipping sweetened medicines and not practising good oral hygiene can all help create ECCs.
What happens if childhood caries isn’t treated?
If you don’t treat your child’s tooth decay, a mountain of negative consequences can lie ahead. While we don’t want to be alarmist, all parents must understand how damaging this situation is. First, let’s take a look at the short-term problems:
- pain, toothache
- disturbed sleep
- poor appetite
- decreased ability to concentrate
- infection (leading to abscesses, for example)
- loss of school days
- emergency visits to hospital
- need for extractions (tooth removal)
- need for dental procedures under general anaesthetic
- financial expense
Let’s look at developmental and long-term problems:
- Alignment: A child’s baby teeth act as space holders. They help guide the adult teeth into the appropriate place. Without them, adult teeth can push through in inappropriate angles, making them poorly aligned. This also causes dental health problems as poorly aligned teeth can be difficult to clean – causing further cavities – and physical and financial distress.
- Adult teeth: Infected baby teeth can retard the growth or even infect the adult teeth growing Consequently, poor oral health and dental disease can continue into adulthood.
- Cavities: The surrounding baby teeth have a higher chance of developing cavities
- General health: The child’s general health can be affected, resulting in insufficient development in their height and weight.
- Expense – a child with dental caries will cost mum and dad more money in dental bills and hospital procedures.
- Speech problems – we use our teeth, lips, tongue and mouth to talk. Without our teeth, pronouncing certain words is more challenging.
- Social problems – with prematurely lost teeth, children are left with toothless smiles, along with the inability as mentioned earlier to eat or talk well.
How to avoid ECCs
- Never let your infant or tot fall asleep with a baby bottle in their mouth
- Always rinse or clean a baby’s or child’s teeth after feeding or a meal
- Never put sweetened drinks in a baby’s bottle
- Clean your baby’s teeth as soon as they come through by using a wet cloth or a small children’s toothbrush with water
- Encourage children to rinse their mouth with water in between meals and when they can’t brush their teeth
- Visit the dentist regularly. The ADA recommends that your infant should first visit the dentist by the age of 12 months or when their first tooth pushes through – whichever comes first.
- Read more about your children’s teeth here >