Children’s Dental Health

Written by Dr Meera Gupta

BDS MJDF MSc Restorative Dental Practice

As a parent is there anything more heart-warming than your child approaching you with a beaming smile, singing you a song, or enjoying a meal that you have put your heart into cooking?

Everyday life, and our general health are affected by our oral health.  Studies have shown a strong association between gum disease and health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.  Poor dental health not only causes pain and infection, but can adversely affect your self-confidence, impacting relationships and jobs.

Maintaining good oral health from the outset, will help to lay a good foundation for the future.  Poor child dental health can result in extensive treatment at a young age, which can cause dental anxiety for life.  If milk teeth are lost early, the adult teeth can come through crowded.  Some people are naturally missing adult teeth, therefore the milk tooth will not be replaced.

Tooth decay is the most common reason children receive a general anaesthetic in the UK.  It is however, entirely preventable with a good diet, toothbrushing and the use of fluoride.  The white soft layer on our teeth called plaque contains bacteria. This converts the sugars from food we eat into acid, attacking the tooth. If these attacks occur frequently, the bacteria will invade the tooth and cause it to decay, resulting in holes or cavities, which can lead to pain and infection, and ultimately tooth loss. 

Effective toothbrushing removes bacteria on the tooth surface, by disrupting the bacteria in the dental plaque.  This helps to prevent tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath.  Toothbrushing should begin as soon as the teeth start to come through at approximately 6 months old.  It is recommended that up to 3 years old, a smear of toothpaste containing 1000ppm fluoride is used.   From 3 years onwards, a pea sized amount of toothpaste containing 1450ppm fluoride should be used.   Fluoride is the most important ingredient in toothpaste; strengthening enamel, preventing tooth decay and reversing early decay.  Brushing should be carried out in a circular motion at a 45⁰ angle to the tooth surface. The outside, inside and biting surfaces of teeth, and the tongue should be cleaned. Following toothbrushing the toothpaste should be spat out, not rinsed, to retain the fluoride in the mouth.  Brushing should be supervised up to age 7 and the brush should be changed at least every 3 months.  Make it fun for your child by singing a song!

A good diet prevents tooth decay and acid wear of the teeth.  The amount, length and frequency of sugar and acid attacks on the teeth should be kept to a minimum.  When a baby is being weaned try to introduce less sweet foods first to avoid developing a “sweet tooth”. Prolonged use of a milk or juice bottle in bed at night is a common cause for tooth decay in young children.  Limit juices, and if they are given, try to dilute them and give them at meal times.  Fizzy drinks and energy drinks should be avoided.  Excess acid intake e.g. with fizzy drinks and excess citrus fruits can wear away the tooth tissue, which can make the teeth appear shorter and more sensitive.  Beware of hidden sugars in foods and ensure sweet treats are not given frequently. Children will follow your example; it is important you are maintaining a good diet if you expect your child to!

Suckling provides comfort to babies. However, prolonged dummy and thumb sucking in children can distort the bite, affecting appearance, speech and the ability to eat.  The tooth position may then need to be corrected with braces.  The longer the habit persists for, the more difficult it is to correct.  A dummy fairy who leaves a present in exchange for the dummy can prove to be truly magical!

Young children are constantly running around, falling over, and bumping into things, which can result in dental injuries.  The use of helmets when cycling or using scooters reduces the risk of injury.  Older children should wear mouthguards for contact sports such as hockey and rugby.

Mouth ulcers are very common in children, with a variety of causes, including viruses, nutritional deficiencies or gut problems.  If your child has an ulcer that takes more than 2-3 weeks to heal, or an unusual looking lump or bump in the moth, visit the dentist.  Mouth cancer is very rare in children, but it is always better to get your child checked.

Visiting the dentist will help to identify disease, ensure your child is brushing properly, and check that there are no anomalies with your child’s tooth development. It is recommended that your child visits the dentist in their first year after teeth have started to come through, and then has regular check-ups. Peppa Pig visits the dentist is a useful video to watch before your child attends their first dental visit.

In short, in order to maintain good oral health, simply follow the old adage: “prevention is better than cure”.  Finally, in the words of Marilyn Munroe “keep smiling because life is a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about!”