If you want your children to avoid complicated dental procedures in the latter years of their life, it is important to impart the proper dental habits when they are still young. Contrary to popular understanding, oral care starts even prior to the eruption of the first milk tooth. In fact, starting early means cleaning your baby’s gums with a clean and moist gauze pad within the first few days of his or her birth!

It is important to be proactive when it comes to oral care. As soon as your child’s milk teeth starts to appear – around the age of 6 months – they are already at risk of decay. Commonly referred to as ‘baby bottle tooth decay’, the early onset of dental decay in infants and toddlers need to be taken seriously. In some cases, the state of the decay may be so severe that the child’s teeth need to be removed. The decay usually starts in the upper front teeth, although other teeth are also at risk.

On a more positive note, tooth decay is preventable. The following are some pointers that will assist parents and caregivers in imparting healthy dental habits for the children in their care:

Cleaning, brushing and flossing

As mentioned, it is a good idea to wipe your child’s gums after meals even before their milk teeth arrive. This regular ‘gum-rubbing sensation’ will subconsciously introduce the child to the need to clean their teeth and gums after a meal. As soon as the milk teeth arrive, the toothbrush should take over the cleaning role. You can immediately start your child on fluoride toothpaste, using a tiny amount – no more than the size of a grain of rice – on a baby-size toothbrush. Twice daily brushing is recommended. You can increase the amount of toothpaste to a pea-size for children 3-6 years of age. Continue to supervise the brushing until you feel comfortable that the child is able to brush on his or her own. Flossing should only begin – and thereafter on a daily basis – after the child has two teeth that touch.

Use of pacifiers

Babies have a natural sucking reflex and pacifiers are often used to soothe or calm the child. While it is debatable whether a pacifier is good or bad for your child, there are a couple of things you should avoid if you choose to use it. Do not dip the pacifier in honey, juice or sweetened drinks before letting your child suck, as it can cause decay. Do not clean a pacifier with your mouth as the cavity-causing bacteria may be passed from your mouth to the baby.

Your child’s first dental visit

You may schedule a dental visit for your child as soon as the first tooth appears. The first dental visit is recommended to take place within 6 months of the first tooth’s appearance, and not later than the child’s first birthday. The maiden visit is mainly for an oral examination so that the dentist can inspect for cavities, oral injuries or other problems.

To make the first visit a positive one, you may do the following:

  • Schedule a morning appointment: Children tend to be more rested and cooperative during that time of the day;
  • Keep your anxiety at bay: Be careful not to let any tense emotions rub off on the child;
  • Do not bribe the child into visiting the dentist;
  • Discuss the visit with your child to manage his or her expectations.

Fluoride

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in all water sources such as lakes, rivers and oceans. The beneficial properties of the chemical compound help to prevent tooth decay and repair weakened enamel. For these reasons and others, it is commonly added to our drinking water, toothpastes and mouth rinses. Since fluoride helps to boost your child’s teeth resistance to decay, fluoride toothpastes are recommended as a good preventative measure for paediatric oral health. If you are not sure about the adequate amount of fluoride to use for your child, please consult your dentist for more information.

Teething

It is useful to have an idea of your child’s teething process. All 20 of your child’s baby teeth arrive by the time he or she reaches 3 years of age. Although the front teeth usually erupt at about 6 months of age, it is not uncommon for some kids to have their first tooth at 12 or 14 months. As caregivers, you should also look out for your child’s teething symptoms: Irritability, loss of appetite, sleepiness, etc. You should contact a physician if your child experiences more profound symptoms like developing a rash, running a temperature or having diarrhoea during the teething period.