Healthy teeth and gums are vital to the overall health of your baby from birth. The importance of good oral hygiene continues throughout ones life. While the appearance of your baby’s first tooth is an exciting moment and presents many cute photo opportunities, it comes with added responsibility. Oral hygiene is one of the cornerstones to the well being of our children.
Studies carried out and published by The British Medical Journal, The American Academy of Paediatric Dentistry, and The International Association of Paediatric Dentistry and so on, stress the absolute necessity of healthy gums and teeth for a child’s physical, social and psychological well being. If one considers that a baby puts all sorts of objects into its mouth, poor gums or teeth will allow infection in and this can easily spread to the rest of the body. Painful teeth and gums often lead to a child avoiding certain food stuffs and the nutrition of the child is then compromised.
Parents are often shocked to hear of the strong association between mouth disease and chronic infections, premature birth, lung disease, heart disease and diabetes. Over and above this a child with poor teeth may find speech difficult and will certainly struggle to socialize if they are embarrassed about their teeth. Unfortunately these are all a reality associated with poor oral hygiene and a very real reason for caring for our children’s teeth even before they appear.
What is mouth disease?
Generally speaking there are two groups of mouth disease. These are gum disease (gingivitis) and tooth decay (caries). Let me explain in a little more detail:
Gingivitis – Plaque develops quickly in our mouths once we have eaten. It is made up of bacteria that stick to the teeth and form a white film. If it is not cleaned off then the gums become red and inflamed and the gums may even bleed from time to time. Gingivitis is reversible with good cleaning using a toothbrush and floss. If gingivitis is not addressed then a more serious form of gum disease results. This is known as periodontitis.
Periodontitis- This is a condition which may result if gingivitis is not addressed. The inflammation and infection attacks the ligaments that hold the teeth in place. It also causes damage to the bone and will ultimately lead to the tooth being lost.
Caries– The plaque that forms in our mouths contains a lot of different types of bacteria. The two major bacteria are streptococcus and lactobacilli. The names are not important but their effect on teeth certainly is. If plaque is left on the teeth then it affects the enamel on the teeth. Over time this may lead to a breakdown of the enamel and a hole (caries) forms in the tooth. A hole in a tooth provides a direct access point for infection to enter the body and certainly something we all want to avoid.
What can be done to prevent gum disease and tooth decay?
- Cleaning– The importance of cleaning your child’s gums and teeth cannot be stressed enough. Before baby gets teeth it is recommended that you wipe your baby’s gums with a clean cloth or gauze twice a day. By the time your baby is a year old you should have progred to a soft toothbrush.
- Toothpaste– Water is adequate for cleaning baby’s gums and teeth until he or she is at least 18 months. There is a gel on the market which contains Xylitol. This is safe for babies from a very young age. It has been shown to assist in good oral hygiene. You only need a pea-sized amount of such a toothpaste if you do decide to use one. I would advise speaking to your dentist about this and which toothpaste is recommended for the age group concerned.
- Bottle feeding– It is really important that a baby is held when drinking a bottle. If your baby is left with a bottle in the cot chances are your baby will fall asleep with the bottle still in the mouth. Milk pools in the mouth and this may lead to tooth decay. Over and above this the pooled milk can run into the little tube between the mouth and ears and lead to ear infections.
- Sippy cups– From about 6 months of age your baby may start using a sippy cup. Again it is vital that they do not fall asleep with the cup. Children should also not be allowed to walk around with their sippy cup. When a child is distracted he or she may hold the fluid in the mouth and again this can lead to tooth decay.
- Dummies/ pacifiers– Try to get rid of the dummy by the age of two years. Prolonged use of a dummy can affect the position of the teeth and lead to orthodontic problems later in life. It is not always simple but this is why I prefer a dummy to finger sucking. You can throw away the dummy but the finger sucking is a little more difficult to resolve. J
- Juice and fizzy drinks- A scary statistic is that juice and fizzy drinks accounts for the majority of caries in children between the ages of 6 and 16. Water and plain milk are the best drinks for children. If a child does have juice or a fizzy drink, this should be limited to special occasions and meal times. The teeth should be cleaned directly after a child has had either one of these beverages.
- Sugar- We have all been told of the effects of sugar on teeth. Whether your child is eating or drinking sweet things one should be reminded that the sugar feeds the bacteria in the mouth. It is these bacteria which in turn cause mouth disease.
How do I go about cleaning my baby’s teeth?
When your baby is very little and learning to smile and laugh, we found it easiest to lay our children on our bed and get them to smile or laugh. Wiping the gums that way was easy and it became somewhat of a game. But as their little mouths fill up with teeth, cleaning needs to become more formal. I would suggest the following:
- Let your baby sit on your lap facing away from you. You will be able to turn your head to see into your baby’s face.
- Your baby’s head will be resting against your body. You can cup your baby’s head with one hand and brush with the other.
- Use small circular movements to brush the teeth. If you are using an electric toothbrush then you don’t need to make circular movements as the brush does this already.
- Try to lift your baby’s lip so that you are able to clean the gums as well as the back teeth.
- At all times keep this process fun. Healthy teeth are so vital to your child’s health that you never want teeth cleaning to become an issue or a stressful time for either of you.
- Place baby’s toothbrush in its own glass or container for storing. Toothbrushes should never touch as there is a chance that the bacteria from one toothbrush can get onto another brush and tooth decay may be the result.
Teeth and oral hygiene have not been receiving the same attention as annual check-ups or vaccinations. Certainly, healthy gums and teeth play a vital role in the well being of individuals throughout their lives. Longevity is linked to good teeth and healthy gums and it all begins in the very first days of life. Healthy gums and teeth are essential for a long and disease free life.