MH investigates why dental care is just as important as the paediatrician for our growing children.
WORDS DR NICOLA DAVIES
Baby teeth, sometimes referred to as milk teeth, are intended to fall out, correct? Yes, but the body is designed for milk teeth to fall out naturally and when the permanent teeth are ready to replace them. According to a report on the oral health of children in Singapore, 50.6 per cent of seven-year-olds have some amount of tooth decay. Fortunately, in August 2014, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) introduced dental care programmes to preschools and child care workers and hopes to have all child care centres on board by 2019.
What is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is the result of bacteria that grows on plaque, which is sticky and always forms on the enamel of our teeth. If the substances that cause the bacteria to form aren’t removed, teeth can become discoloured, painful, and they may even develop holes (also known as caries or cavities). Even the 20 primary teeth need to be protected from tooth decay once they begin pushing through the gums. The American Dental Association recommends that children have their first dental exam by 12 months of age or six months after the first milk tooth emerges.
How can Babies’ Teeth become Decayed?
The number one cause of child tooth decay is leaving sugary substances on the teeth. And the number one reason that happens is…milk. Why? Isn’t milk good for our children? Absolutely. Baby formula and breast milk contain essential ingredients for a healthy baby. Nevertheless, milk (breast milk too!) contains sugars – and if baby goes to bed with a bottle, plaque is eagerly awaiting the sugars to form the bacteria that causes tooth decay.
There are other causes for baby tooth decay. Many mothers and childcare workers put a dropped pacifier in their mouths to clean it before handing it back to baby. We share food and utensils with our children. Tooth decay in children is created by a bacteria called Streptococcus mutans. If the adult’s saliva carries high levels of the bacteria, babies are at a higher risk for tooth decay.
Several studies have shown that second hand smoke may also contribute to child tooth decay. A study of 76,000 children in Kobe City, Japan, found that children as young as four months old living in households with at least one smoker had twice the amount of tooth decay as those with no smokers in the household.
The right amount of fluoride is necessary for healthy teeth. Fluoride is a mineral found in many foods, as well as in many sources of drinking water. Most toothpastes also contain fluoride. Fluoride helps protect the enamel on our teeth and can even reverse tooth decay after it has begun. Although some parents worry that their children will get too much fluoride, most cases of fluorosis are found to be mild.
Reasons to Keep Baby Teeth Healthy
If you aren’t yet convinced of the importance of baby and toddler dental care, maybe this will persuade you:
Maybe that gap in your smiling toddlers face is adorable, but if tooth decay has rotted the teeth away instead of nature’s natural process, that smile might cause life-long health problems for your little one. Treat young teeth well and they will also have an adorable smile!