Oral care for little ones

Oral care for little ones

Baby teeth last for one-sixth of a person's life and determine the health of permanent teeth, too. So, it’s prudent to practise oral hygiene right from infancy, advises Dr Jyothi Raghuram.

Tooth decay is a chronic disease of childhood, five times more common than asthma. With unhealthy food habits, such as snacking at regular intervals, less intake of milk and wrong brushing, tooth decays occur much earlier among children today than, say, a few years ago.

Oral health is an oft-overlooked component of overall health. Tooth decay can cause oral pain and infection that affect eating habits and nutrition. In addition, many forget that tooth decay can impact communication and physical appearance as well. Primary (baby) teeth last for one-sixth of a person's life. Hence, proper oral care has to be ensured, right from the beginning. 

Baby teeth provide proper spacing for the eruption of permanent teeth. It is necessary for proper chewing of food, oral health, and normal digestive processes. Most milk teeth are shed between six and thirteen years of age. Therefore, it is essential to maintain good oral hygiene.

Don’ts

n Infants should take their feed before bedtime. Avoid feeding from bottles post bedtime. If your child is bottle fed, make sure s/he does not go to sleep with a bottle in the mouth.

n Avoid filling the bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks. Place only formula, milk or breastmilk in bottles. 

n If your child uses a pacifier, don’t dip it in sugar or honey.

Dos

n Begin oral care as early as the first week of life.

n After feeding the baby, use a clean wet washcloth to clean baby’s gums daily. 

n Ensure baby has swallowed all milk before lying him/her down.

n Once teeth appear, use a soft bristled toothbrush to clean teeth or continue to use a clean wet washcloth.

n Do not put baby’s chew toy and the like in adult’s mouth. That will transfer harmful bacteria to the baby.

n Water is the best choice of beverage between meals. Avoid giving juice and aerated drinks. 

n Encourage your child to drink from a cup, right from his/her first birthday. n When your child starts solids, limit the intake of sweet or sticky foods. n Have your child brush two times daily.

n Supervise young children when they brush. For children aged two to six years, use only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. In children under age of two years, discourage use of fluoride toothpaste.

n Encourage your child to spit out the toothpaste rather than swallow it. 

Children, under six years of age, tend to swallow most of the toothpaste on their brush.

 If children regularly consume higher-than-recommended amounts of fluoride during the teeth-forming years (age eight and younger), their permanent teeth may develop white lines or flecks called fluorosis.

n Until the child is seven or eight years old, you will need to help your child brush. Young children cannot get their teeth cleaned by themselves. Brush your child's teeth first, then let the child finish.
Even though they are temporary, your child's baby teeth are important. They are susceptible to cavities, and if left untreated, infected teeth can cause recurrent episodes of pain, tooth infection, difficulty in chewing, poor nutrition and sometimes, increase the chances of infection on valves of the heart, especially in children with pre-existing heart defects. 
These will eventually take a toll on the child’s general health. So, it is imperative that you seek treatment and maintain healthy practices to ensure good oral care. 
(The writer is a paediatrician, Columbia Asia Hospital, Whitefield, Bangalore)

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