Oral care for babies

dental concerns

Oral care for babies

Even though a baby’s teeth are temporary, it is important that it is taken care of right from the initial stages. Tooth decay in infants is called bottle tooth decay or childhood caries. Children need strong teeth, which are rightly aligned, so that they can chew and speak properly. It is necessary that proper oral care is given to toddlers, as dedicated initial efforts will lay a strong foundation for their adult teeth.

Early decay

Baby bottle tooth decay is caused due to prolonged exposure of the baby’s teeth to sugar-laced drinks. This usually happens when the baby is put to sleep with a bottle containing milk or juice in his mouth, or when the feeding bottle is used as a pacifier for the baby. Bacteria in the mouth burgeon on the sugar and produce acidic substances that cause tooth decay. It most commonly occurs in the upper front teeth, but the other teeth are likely to get equally affected eventually.

Tooth decay is also possible with cavity causing bacteria, which is transferred from the mother or a caretaker. This happens if someone cleans the nipple of the feeding bottle or pacifiers with their mouth. But this ailment is not just restricted to milk juice or formula. It is also necessary to check the fluoride level in water. A growing child needs adequate amount of fluoride content. But too much or too less fluoride content in water can cause damage to the teeth.

Preliminary signs of baby bottle tooth decay are white spots on the smooth surface of the front teeth. This needs to be taken care of immediately, as it can lead to tooth decay if not treated. Other signs to look for are blackening of teeth, fever, irritability and swelling of gums and cheeks due to infection.

Prevention is better than cure. So, it is better to take some pre-cautionary steps and avoid unnecessary complications. Here are a few tips:

Never share or exchange saliva through common use of spoons or pacifiers.
Wipe the baby’s teeth and gums with a small piece of gauze or cloth after every meal.
For kids between the ages of three and six, use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste to clean the teeth.
Do not coat or dip the pacifier into sugary substances.
Encourage the baby to use cups instead of feeding bottles from the age of one.
Clean and massage gums in the areas without teeth.
Get a dental check up done once the baby completes 12 months.
Never put infants to sleep with a feeding bottle or a sippy cup.
Avoid sugary substances in meals.

Treatment options

The treatment usually depends on the gravity of tooth decay. If it is treated in the initial stages, then there is nothing much to worry about. In the initial stages, when the white spots start to show on the upper front tooth, fluoride treatment is given, wherein a small amount of fluoride is applied on the teeth. This method reverses the tooth decay by giving it a new enamel surface.

If decay is spotted at later stages, fluoride treatment will not be needed. Severe cases of tooth decay are given the same treatment like that of adult tooth decay. It would include administration of anaesthesia or sedatives for restoration work, or for crowning and in some cases, extraction of the tooth is also done depending upon the severity of the decay. So, in case of any signs of childhood caries make sure that proper treatment is given in the early stages. It will help prevent problems in adulthood.

(The author is consultant periodontist, Apollo White dental, Chennai)

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