Learning to recognise & prevent dental problems

Here's all your need to know about complete oral care for your child.

By Dr Sukanya V Kumar  • 9 min read

Learning to recognise & prevent dental problems

Regular dental check-up is important Children can start visiting dentists from the age of 2 years, once every six months, for a routine check-up. The dentist ensures that the teeth are cleaned properly and are devoid of caries or any other infection. Preventive measures taken at an early age can help prevent tooth decay.

After they get sufficient teeth, the dentist can show them how to brush the right way. Preferably do not combine your own treatment appointment along with that of your children. Watching a procedure done on you could be too stressful for them.

Children between the ages of 4 to 7 years normally learn about teeth and food habits in school. This is the right age for the dentist to explain the parts of the tooth and encourage children to brush their teeth at least twice a day.

Once the child starts losing the milk teeth (6-7 years) and develops permanent teeth, the dentist should let your child understand the concept of ‘a beautiful smile’ and why it is important to have teeth in good alignment. Certain problems in correcting teeth and the jaws may involve extensive treatment if the child visits the dentist in the late teens.

X-rays should be taken once a year to check for proper teeth formation and to rule out any cavities in the teeth.

All about healthy teeth and oral hygiene You can start cleaning your baby’s teeth as soon as they appear in the mouth. Use gauze or muslin cloth wrapped around your finger for this. Once infants are weaned from mother’s milk, a non-fluoride toothpaste with a non-fruity flavour (some herbal pastes do not contain fluoride) can be smeared on the cloth to gently clean the teeth. Then plain cloth should be used to remove the traces of paste.

Older children can use the fluoride toothpastes commonly available. Fluoride helps resist caries in teeth and to a small extent, in the reversal of enamel decay.

Bad breath can be caused by factors like poor oral hygiene, coated tongue, multiple cavities, repeated infections of cold and cough, gastritis, indigestion and stress. Poor oral hygiene is the most common cause of bad breath.

Flossing is very important to maintain gum health and to prevent tartar formation. Dental floss is available in supermarkets and pharmacies. But if your child has some gaps, the dentist can prescribe an appropriate product and teach the child the correct way to floss.

Tongue cleaning is needed to maintain oral hygiene and prevent bad breath. A non-gagging shaped tongue cleaner can be used after brushing.

Teenagers have to be educated about maintaining oral hygiene and gum health because of the hormonal changes. Bad breath and jaw joint problems are common and need proper treatment. They should also be educated on the ill effects of various habits like smoking and chewing tobacco.

Children who are active in contact sports should wear mouthguards or helmets to protect their teeth and jaws from injury.

Managing toothaches and other tooth problems If a permanent tooth comes out and the milk tooth has not yet fallen off then the dentist will have to remove the milk tooth. Sometimes, the shaking milk tooth can be painful and your child will find chewing difficult.

For temporary relief during a toothache, you can give him Paracetamol (Crocin) 10mg for 1 kg of the child’s weight. Then visit the dentist. If there is a dental cavity and it is not too close to the nerve, he will do a filling.

If the cavity is painful and deep, your child will need a pulpotomy or root canal treatment after which the tooth is capped. Lasers are used for most of these procedures so that the pain is not aggravated and the procedure is comfortable. Whether it is a milk tooth or permanent tooth, the cavity has to be treated to prevent further episodes of pain.

In case of an accident, the broken tooth bit may be removed or re-cemented depending on the extent of damage. The tooth itself may need root canal treatment and a crown if it has chipped off close to the nerve or pulp of the tooth. If only a small portion is chipped off, the child will have occasional sensitivity and will need a filling to protect the tooth from hot and cold stimuli.

If the entire tooth falls off, it can be re-implanted if you bring the fallen tooth dipped completely in milk to a dentist within 20 to 30 minutes. If Implants are not desirable then the natural teeth on either side will be used for support and a fixed tooth prosthesis can be given.

When do children need braces? Orthodontics or braces will be needed for children with crooked teeth, or spaces between teeth, having a protruding upper or lower jaw or cleft lip and palate. Teeth may have to be moved to favourable positions in case of congenitally missing teeth.

Usually, teeth correction with orthodontics can be done only after all the permanent teeth erupt at 12 years of age. But children with jawbone problems like protruding upper or lower jaw will need early treatment by 9 years. Abnormal muscle attachments can cause gaps between the front teeth. Your child will need a minor surgical correction of the muscle (frenum), usually done with lasers to avoid injections and stitches, before the orthodontic treatment.

A visit to the dentist around 8 to 9 years of age is desirable to check out the need for braces.

Prevent tooth decay Avoid sweets that linger in the mouth for long, like lollipops and candies. Sweets are best consumed soon after a meal when salivation is at the maximum. Regular brushing after eating sweets is important.

Young children and infants should not be allowed to drink milk and fall asleep without cleaning their teeth. This causes ‘rampant’ Caries that cause great pain and completely destroy all the milk teeth. The milk teeth turn black and break. The infection at the roots can spread to the underlying and developing permanent teeth.

Healthy diet to maintain sparkling white teeth

Foods rich in calcium, phosphorous and vitamins are essential for jaw development in infants and children upto 6 years of age. Milk, cheese, paneer, curds and eggs help develop strong teeth. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a great source of vitamins and provide good immunity, which is important during the tooth-forming years. Prolonged viral or bacterial infections can cause disturbances in enamel formation, making the teeth appear dark while growing.

Dr Sukanya V Kumar is a dental surgeon and consultant at Dr K K Raja's Dental and Dentofacial Centre.