Over the last two posts we’ve highlighted important components that heavily impact your child’s risk for dental decay. Today we discuss the final part of the puzzle, that if you get right, will help give your child their best shot at a lifetime of good dental health.
The answer is as simple as regular brushing and flossing. Research shows time and time again that good hygiene habits developed early on in life will have a huge impact on future decay risk. So what can you do to get dental hygiene right?
Even before your infant’s first tooth erupts, you should be trying to get your infant used to the sensation of cleaning in the mouth. The best way to do this is simply by rubbing your infant’s gums with a clean piece of gauze and water or a clean cloth and water. By rubbing the gums gently you are removing any debris and left over milk proteins from the gums but more importantly you are desensitising your infant to brushing. Rubbing the gums this way once a day (preferably at night) for up to 30 seconds sets the routine to introduce brushing once the first tooth erupts.
At around 5-6 months of age your infant will start to teethe. This can be a troublesome time for you both. You will notice a reddening of the gums around where the new tooth is erupting. Your child will drool and more than likely be irritable until the tooth breaks the skin. To help relieve the discomfort, try cold chew rings stored in the refrigerator and teething gel available from the pharmacy. If necessary you may need to administer pain medication on occasion to help settle your child, as prescribed by your pharmacist. As a general rule teething should only produce local discomfort and reddening around the erupting tooth. If your child experiences high temperatures, diarrhoea or any systemic illness your child needs to be seen by your GP.
Once the first tooth breaks through the gum you can start to clean it. Initially the gum around the newly erupted tooth will remain sore for a day or two so be careful when cleaning the tooth not to bump the gum too severely. Chose either an infants toothbrush and water or continue to rub the tooth with clean gauze and water initially, ensuring to clean both after morning feeds and evening feeds before bed. Once your infant has two or three baby teeth in the mouth you should be using an infants brush at each clean. There is no need to bush for 2 minutes until all of the baby teeth are in the mouth. Clean the initial one or two teeth for 15-20 seconds and then increase the time as more teeth erupt. Use only water and a brush to clean your infant’s teeth until around the age of 18 months. At 18 months a small, pea-sized smear of infants toothpaste can be used when brushing. Most children can’t adequately spit out until the age of four, however, encouraging your child to spit out after brushing helps develop this skill more quickly.
Finally don’t forget to floss your child’s teeth, yes FLOSS! Too many parents leave out flossing from their children’s daily routine. Remember that your child is developing their routine and beliefs and flossing needs to be part of their daily routine. Try using floss on a stick (flossettes) and encourage your child to allow you to floss. The earlier you start flossing and brushing your child’s teeth, the less resistance you will have.
Research has shown time and time again that a child’s brushing and flossing habits are one of the strongest indicators for risk of dental decay. By setting a daily brushing and flossing routine you are well on the way to helping your child reduce their decay risk for life.
Children develop their taste preferences early in life and their dietary choices are heavily dependant on early experiences with food. Diet alone has a huge impact on a child’s dental decay risk. As we all know, diets high in sugar and easily fermentable carbohydrates can lead to dental decay. The outcome from a poor diet in infancy is a debilitating dental disease known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC) or Baby Bottle decay. Children and especially infants exposed to sugary drinks in bottles and pacifiers dipped in sweetened products are at an extremely high risk for this form of dental decay that can develop well before the second birthday. Unfortunately children with ECC require extensive and expensive dental treatment under a general anaesthetic in hospital. Infants with a diet high in sweetened foods and drinks develop high bacterial counts of the bad bugs known to cause dental decay, therefore limiting sugar in the diet has a huge impact on the reduction of decay causing bugs.
The introduction of solids and new foods not only impacts your child’s food preferences, but also their risk for dental decay for their entire life. Needless to say there is a huge importance in getting your infant’s diet right from the start. One of the biggest culprits in an infants diet is what they drink from the bottle. Relying heavily on fluids for sustenance, water and plain milk should be the only drinks offered in infants and children’s bottles. If your child needs a bottle to fall asleep, don’t be tempted to put anything other than water in their bottle. It is also recommended that all sweetened drinks are to be avoided as they are an unnecessary part of an infants diet. Fruit juices, cordial and soft drinks have been shown to increase the risk for decay, in turn increasing the bacterial count of bad bugs (Strp Mutans) in the mouth. Research shows that infants who are introduced to a savoury diet earlier than 7 months of age have a reduced incidence of dental decay throughout childhood. It is therefore beneficial to try and keep your infants diet simple and savoury when you begin to introduce solids.
So to reduce your infant’s risk of dental decay by taking their diet seriously from the beginning. Don’t allow your baby to go to sleep with anything other than water in a bottle, avoid all sweetened drinks in bottles and don’t offer your infant a pacifier dipped in sweetened products (i.e. honey). There are many sources of excellent information available on introducing your infant to a healthy diet so be sure to do your research before you begin. The mouth’s environment is under constant development in the first year of life, so remember that the steps you take now will have a hugely positive impact on your child’s dental and general health for the rest of their lives.
It goes without saying the first year of life can influence much of a child’s perception and understanding about the world around them. It also has a huge impact on their health. But did you know the first year of life also has a huge impact on a child’s dental health and their risk for tooth decay?
When a child is born, their mouths are sterile blank canvases, ready to learn about tastes, touch, temperature and texture. Much of what a child experiences in infancy is done with their mouths as they learn to suckle, start to mumble, blow “raspberries” and taste their first food source (breast milk). As an infant develops, the use of their mouth evolves and becomes their main interface with the world as they start to put all sorts of objects in their mouth to sense the world around them.
In the first year of life, infants are developing their own perception about oral health and their diet. At the same time, a bacterial flora develops in their sterile little mouths. Babies have been found to acquire the vast majority of their oral bacteria and beliefs about oral care from their mother. It therefore goes without saying that a mother, or soon-to-be-mother, needs to know what they can do to set their children’s dental health up for the rest of their lives.
Research has shown that good dental health before, during and after pregnancy is vital. Morning sickness, sweet cravings, intolerances to strong tastes and smells like toothpastes make it very easy for dental health to deteriorate during pregnancy. It starts with the basics; the mum-to-be needs a dental check and clean, and should have any dental treatment performed prior to the birth of the child (if safe to do so). Getting mums to look after their teeth and keeping their dental health optimal leading up to and after the birth of the child is extremely important.
Infants start to develop a bacterial flora in the mouth from as early as three months. A lot of this bacteria is inherited directly from their mother due to their close contact, therefore mums (and dads) need to have great dental health. Maintaining good dental health as parents ensures the number of bad disease causing bugs (mainly Step. Mutans) are kept low, and ensures a higher percentage of healthy bugs in the mouth. In turn, this provides your child the best opportunity to acquire a similar balance of good and bad bugs that sets them up for life. It will at the very least reduce the spread of bad bugs to your child.
Over the next few posts we’ll share a few simple ways to set your child’s dental health up for life.