Saturday, December 5, 2009

The importance of baby teeth

A rise in dental decay among four-year-olds has sparked a new campaign to improve our children’s teeth

Like most parents, taking care of my daughter’s teeth is just as important as making sure she eats a healthy diet and gets enough sleep.
It has never occurred to me to actually take her to see a dentist until she lost her baby teeth and grew her permanent teeth. I always assumed that so long as you keep up good dental hygiene, brush twice a day, eat healthy food, avoid acidic and sugary stuff, she will be fine.
But new research has shown that decay rates are increasing in four-year-olds and less than 11 per cent of three-year-olds have seen a dentist.
We should hardly be surprised when you take a look inside kindergarten lunch boxes. Biscuits, salty chips, sticky rice bubble bars and juice poppers are not good for little teeth.
So the Australian Dental Association (ADA) is embarking on a community health initiative to help parents and carers of babies and toddlers with preventative oral health care.
A baby’s primary teeth are just as important as permanent teeth and start forming in the jaw bone before birth.
The first tooth usually comes through at about six months of age, and they should have a full set of teeth by the age of two or three years.
The ADA recommends the first trip to the dentist should be within six months of the eruption of the first tooth, or by the child’s first birthday.
Primary teeth help a child to chew and speak properly and most importantly, they reserve the correct space in their gums for the permanent teeth when they are older.
Furthermore, research has found that the state of a mother’s oral health can have an influence on the future oral health of her newborn.
Diet, oral hygiene habits and a particular bacteria called Streptococcus mutans, which can be transferred from parent to child, are thought to be contributing factors to the increasing decay rates among young children.
Streptococcus mutans can be transferred from a parent’s mouth to the mouth of their baby, which can in turn predispose the baby to dental decay.
Dental decay is a transmittable disease, so it’s important both parents and carers maintain good oral health.
While Australian children enjoy good oral health overall, and dental decay rates have improved since the introduction of water fluoridation in the '60s, dietary factors such as increased frequency of consumption of sugary foods and drinks, drinking less fluoridated tap water and poorer hygiene habits, have contributed to the increase in decayed, missing or filled teeth in four-year-olds.
Early childhood caries can have a significant impact on a young child’s health and is linked to symptoms such as pain, infection, abscesses, gastrointestinal disorders, malnutrition and retarded growth due to loss of appetite.

To help prevent early childhood caries, follow the guidelines below:
  • If your baby has teeth, don’t settle them to sleep with a breastfeed or bottle of milk, sweetened flavoured milk, cordial, soft drink or fruit juice
  • Never allow your child to take a bottle of milk or other sugary beverages to bed. When they are older, it is fine to place water on their bedside table in case they get thirsty overnight
  • If your baby likes to suck on something to settle them to sleep, offer a dummy or a bottle of water
  • If your baby has a breastfeed or bottle of milk before bed, then gently wipe down their teeth with a moistened cloth before putting them to bed
  • Breast and bottle feeding regularly throughout the night once a child is over 12 months can contribute to caries. Speak with your doctor or child health nurse if your baby still needs an overnight feed
  • Avoid giving your baby or toddler too many snacks; three meals and two snacks per day is sufficient to meet dietary needs
  • If your baby suffers from a dry mouth (lack of saliva) and is a mouth breather, they are at greater risk of caries. Speak with your doctor or dentist if you think your baby may suffer from a dry mouth
  • Start phasing out breast and bottle feeding from 12 months of age and encourage your baby to learn to drink from a cup.

Diet plays a critically important role in the health of your child’s teeth.
Foods that can contribute to dental decay include those high in refined carbohydrates because the sugar feeds the destructive bacteria in your baby’s or toddler’s mouth. The bacteria produce acid which destroys your child’s teeth.
Highly refined packaged foods such as savoury crackers and chips can also have high levels of carbohydrate.
Therefore it is important to check the nutritional information panel on foods to help work out which have high carbohydrate and sugar levels.
Some medicines contain sugar for taste. If your child is prescribed medicine, ask your doctor if this can be sugar free.
Xylitol is a natural sweetener. Foods containing sugar substitutes appear to reduce decay-causing bacteria.
Most people are aware that soft drinks contribute to tooth decay, but these drinks, along with fruit juices, cordials and sports drinks often have high acid levels, and can play a major role in the development of tooth erosion. Dental erosion is a silent epidemic, so encourage your child to drink water as much as possible.
Encouraging healthy eating and drinking habits in babies and toddlers are the best ways to help your child have healthy teeth for life.
The ADA has created fact sheets that deal with all aspects of oral health for babies and toddlers, at


childrendentistsca said...

When your baby is showing teething symptoms, you have to prepare yourself for the discomfort that these cause. Here are some ways on how you can manage teething symptoms easily.

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