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Something To Smile About: Protecting Your Child’S Oral Health

In this new regular column for Tribune Health, the Bahamas Dental Association is seeking to spread awareness of the importance of dental health to a person's overall well-being. Various dentists who are members of the Association will seek to educate readers on a wide range of topics, all pertaining to your teeth.

By Kimberley Richardson, DDS

Paediatric dentist

Primary teeth, or “baby teeth”, begin to develop during the second trimester of pregnancy and begin to appear in the mouth approximately six months to a year after birth. By the age of three most children have a full set of 20 primary teeth.

A common misconception is that primary teeth are not important to the child’s future oral health. Primary or “baby teeth” are important for many reasons:

1 The presence and position of baby teeth assist in pronunciation, enabling the child to speak more quickly and clearly.

2 The baby teeth provide support for the developing facial muscles and give shape to your child’s face.

3 Teeth are needed for chewing, so they are important for good health and nutrition. Children with healthy mouths chew more easily and gain more nutrients from the foods they eat.

4 The primary teeth promote jaw development, maintain space for the permanent teeth to erupt and guide them into proper position. When a baby tooth is lost too early, the permanent teeth can drift into that space and make it difficult for other permanent teeth to erupt.

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, dental caries (tooth decay) is the one of the most common preventable infectious childhood diseases.

Avoid "baby bottle decay"

Dental problems can begin early. A major concern is early childhood caries (previously called baby bottle tooth decay). Once a child’s diet begins to include anything other than breast milk, any erupting or erupted tooth is at risk for decay.

Paediatricians and dentists have cautioned parents not to allow infants to fall asleep with a bottle containing juice, formula, or milk. If you give your child a bottle to take to bed it should only contain water.

Children should be weaned off the bottle by 12 months of age. Sippy cups are another culprit for the introduction of dental caries.

They are meant as a transition cup when a child is being weaned from a bottle and learning to use a regular cup. Parents should limit the intake of fruit juice to no more than four ounces per day and should be limited to mealtimes.

When sugary foods or liquids in the bottle or cup cling to the child’s teeth, they provide food for bacteria that live in the mouth. The bacteria produce acids that can lead to tooth decay. Delaying dental treatment until age two or three can have a negative impact on the child’s overall health. Left unchecked, dental decay can spread quickly through the baby’s thin enamel causing pain, infection that can potentially damage unerupted permanent teeth.

Start oral care early

Getting an early start with regular dental care is important in teaching healthy lifetime habits. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association recommend that a child should have their first dental visit with the eruption of the first tooth or by the first birthday. At this visit, the dentist will review proper oral hygiene and provide nutritional counseling as it pertains to oral health.

Dental visits are just a part of the plan for maintaining good oral health. Many parents are unaware that they should brush their baby’s teeth.

Even before your baby has teeth, you can start cleaning the gums, using water on a baby toothbrush or a soft washcloth after meals. As soon as the first tooth erupts it is time to start brushing twice daily with non-fluoridated toothpaste. Once a child can spit out (usually about age three) fluoridated toothpaste can be used. Flossing should begin when two teeth touch each other. Parents should wait until the child can spit out before using mouth rinse.

Steps to protect your child’s oral health and to ensure a healthy and beautiful smile.

Limit sugary foods and drinks.

First dental visit by the first birthday.

Regular brushing to maintain good oral health.

Schedule dental evaluations at least twice a year.

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