No child's play ....
Parents must note that baby or milk teeth are not temporary, says Dr. T.P. SIVAKUMAR, on the importance of paediatric dental care.
Watch those teeth ... . Photo: K. RAMESH BABU
AS the parent of a toddler, what do you do when your child gets hurt? Give him first aid and take him to the doctor. What do you do when he has a cavity in his tooth? More often than not, ignore it because it's only the milk tooth. And it's this attitude that gets Dr. T.P. Sivakumar's goat. The paediatric dentist, who has come back from the United States, wonders how parents can miss obvious signs of discomfort related to their children's teeth. "Baby teeth or milk teeth are not temporary as is the common perception," he says in the course of an interview. "They are actually semi-permanent and may last till 12-13 years." He has lots to say on this subject and loads of advice for parents. So let's start at the very beginning.
When should the child first see a dentist?
Ideally by the first birthday. Baby's teeth start appearing between six and 12 months and we would like to tell parents what to expect.
The role of the milk teeth?
The milk teeth have a purpose. They provide for the development of the jaws. Also, each milk tooth holds the adult tooth locked under its roots. When it falls off naturally, the adult tooth grows into the gap.
What happens when milk teeth are extracted due to cavities or accidents?
First, milk teeth should not be extracted as this creates problems like misalignment of the adult teeth. Second, if the tooth has been knocked out, it can be put back. Take the child to the dentist immediately. If it is only loose, chances are it will fix itself.
Most parents ignore cavities in children's teeth, which is one major reason for many children being poor eaters. These children grow up with a lot of pain and after a point they get used to it. But it affects their development in other ways.
What's the biggest concern regarding children's teeth?
Nursing caries due to bottle feeding and feeding at will when the mother is nursing. The problem in these cases is that milk pools around the child's gums and causes decay.
How do you avoid this?
Stop bottle feed by 11-12 months. Train the child to use a cup. Avoid at-will breast-feeding at night once the first teeth appear.
Could you suggest an oral hygiene routine for babies?
It's never too early to start. Right from the beginning, use a sterile, soft white cloth to gently wipe the child's gums. When the first teeth appear, use a finger brush to gently clean them. Once the child is a year old, you need a toothbrush. The ideal brush size would be one that covers only three teeth. The idea is to reach the back of the rear teeth without a problem.
How would you suggest a parent tackles the problems of teething - rise in temperature, upset stomach, etc.?
Well, that's ticklish issue. Teething can cause low-grade fever but never more than 100° F. If you think the temperature is due to teething, run your finger over the gums to see if the gums are hot and sore. If not, the fever is not due to teething. The upset stomach is because children at this stage want to bite something, so they put anything at hand into their mouth. Give them a clean teething ring or cold spoon to chew. It's alright to simply rub a baby's gums with your finger too.
Will thumb sucking affect a child's teeth?
From the professional point of view this is perfectly normal for most children. Leave them alone till two years. Try to wean them. But don't worry if it doesn't stop. After four years, try to use play to make them stop. After five, prolonged thumb sucking can cause crooked teeth or problems in biting. But a paediatric dentist can help ways to address this issue.
Can I give the child sweets and chocolates?
Let the child be a child. Actually it's aerated drinks and juices that cause major problems not your chocolates. You cannot avoid them so try to restrict their intake. Give them their sweets at the time closest to brushing their teeth. I know this flies against convention but I would suggest the ideal time to brush their teeth is after breakfast. So give them a little then. Try to avoid it during the day. If you can't, then see that the child rinses his/her mouth properly. Again indulge them a little in the evening, so that they have it before brushing their teeth at night.
What's a good diet for a child?
A healthy balanced diet is one that supplies all the nutrients naturally. A balanced diet is one that includes the following major food groups every day: Fruits and vegetables, breads and cereals, milk and dairy products, meat, fish and eggs. All foods become sugar and then acid. If the baby is on milk, then the process takes two to three hours. In the case of more solid food like rice, it takes seven-eight hours. This acid, if not cleaned out, eats away at the teeth. This holds good for adults too.
Dr. T.P. Sivakumar consults at The Dental Clinic, Chennai.
Ph: 044-8224114 and 044-8274114
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Here are a few tips on how can one prevent a child from having problems with his/her teeth:
Regular fluorides: fluoride toothpaste and professional fluoride treatment once in six months
Early orthodontics to correct jaw problems
Sealants: The first cavities usually appear on the molar teeth. Even if the child brushes regularly and carefully, it can be impossible to clean out the grooves and pits on certain teeth. Sealants "seal out" food and plaque, thus reducing risk of decay
Sports safety: Children must wear a mouth guard when playing contact games like basketball or cycling because this is where many accidents to teeth occur.
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