Are You Checking What's Going Into Your Child's Mouth?

Your child loves exploring the world around her by touching, feeling and tasting everything. Ensure that sharp and toxic objects are out of your child's reach. Here's how.

By Dr Nagendra Kumar V R

Are You Checking What's Going Into Your Child's Mouth?

New mother Lavanya calls her son Curious George after the cute cartoon character. The nine-month-old crawls from one room to another and puts every little thing that he can lay his hands on, into his mouth. While Lavanya does not want to restrict her little one from exploring his surroundings, she is worried about his safety. What if he puts something toxic into his mouth?      

Most young mothers like Lavanya feel the same way. While they need to keep an eye on what goes into their children's mouth, it is important to allow the little ones to explore their surroundings freely. Children have their own way of taking in the sights and smells of the world around them. Snuggling up to the mother, recognising her scent, and responding to known faces and sounds are all part of the child’s growth path.

Just like the sense of touch, smell, and sound, taste is an integral element of this experience. Toddlers often use their tongue and mouth to inspect their environment.  

Benefits of exploring with the mouth

You may have often seen your child biting toys and chewing books. Do you know that it satiates your toddler's intense curiosity about the things around him? Early development of this sensory skill also marks important growth milestones. It strengthens motor strength and coordination, determines eating habits and dental health. It also serves as a self-soothing, calming mechanism, aiding emotional development. 

Be aware of possible complications:

It is indeed a delight to watch happy toddlers at play, as they go about examining every little thing around them. But sometimes, their innocent curiosity can land them in trouble, causing anxiety and stress for parents.

Sometimes, children may consume non-edible substances by mistake or on purpose to check it out. Those objects can get lodged in the throat, nose, respiratory pipe, food pipe or stomach. Some children may consume corrosive agents like acid or alkali. The presence of foreign bodies in the gastrointestinal tract can lead to many problems, based on the nature of the object ingested and the site of impact.

Sharp objects: Objects like pins, needle, nail, pieces of jewellery, fish bone and blades may pierce the wall of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and damage nearby organs such as the trachea and blood vessels, leading to bleeding. These objects are extremely difficult to remove safely and can cause infection if they remain in the system for a long time.

In extreme cases, it can be fatal, even after the child gets medical attention. Unfortunately, most of the victims are infants and young children less than the age of five.

Coins: Coins are another cause for trouble, as most children tend to pop them into their mouths, knowingly or unknowingly. Blunt objects like coins block the food pipe and cause ulcers. Likewise, magnets can also cause ulcers and perforation of the stomach and the intestine.

Everyday objects: Parents must be vigilant when children are playing with toys, gadgets, TV remote, watch and battery-operated toys. All toys with small parts should be kept out of the reach of children below three years of age.      

Button Batteries: Recently, there have been many incidents of unsuspecting children ingesting button batteries. Button batteries can burn the internal tissues in just a few minutes to a few hours, as they contain alkali with charged ions. Even the dead batteries can be dangerous to the internal organs of a toddler, causing complications such as perforation, bleeding, trachea-oesophageal communication (an abnormal connection formed between the trachea and esophagus), and even lead to death in some instances. 

Tips to keep children safe  

To avoid such accidents, parents can take the following precautions:

  • Parents must keep all sharp objects, batteries, coins, and magnets out of reach of children.
  • Dispose of used batteries as soon as possible.
  • Avoid using harsh chemicals, including acid for cleaning purposes.
  • If this is not avoidable, try to use them sparingly and do not store them in large quantities.
  • Keep your bathroom door locked when not in use, if you have a toddler in the house.

Know what to do in case of accidents

Despite your best efforts and caution, your child may swallow a foreign body accidentally. So, it is important that you know what to do in case of an accident or emergency.

  • If the child swallows a foreign object, seek the help of a gastroenterologist as soon as possible. Sharp objects and button batteries ingested by the child need immediate attention.  
  • If the child complains of chest pain, has trouble swallowing food and speaking, and exhibits respiratory distress, the ingested object must be removed immediately.
  • Sometimes, you may not know that the child has consumed a foreign body, but if you notice some of these symptoms or suspect that your child has ingested an object, rush to a doctor. Early attention from a gastroenterologist will prevent short-term and long-term complications. 

As responsible parents let us give our children the joys of a playful, happy and safe childhood

The author Dr Nagendra Kumar V R is a paediatric gastroenterologist.

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