Dental decay affects almost half of Australian children by the age of 9 and a third of children by the age of 5. Untreated decay can cause pain and discomfort, interfering with sleep or chewing. The main causative factor for dental decay is sugar. Sugar in a child’s diet is mainly found in soft drinks, fruit juices, and sticky, sugary snacks.
Modifications to diet can greatly reduce children’s risk to dental decay as it will decrease the amount of “sugar attack” on their teeth. It is important to encourage healthy snacks such as fresh fruits and nuts. Dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt are other healthy alternative options. Reminding children to drink plenty of water and milk is also crucial to maintaining a healthy oral environment.
Another concern that parents often has is “Will my child have crooked teeth?” Crooked teeth may negatively impact a child’s self-esteem and affect their speech. It also makes brushing and flossing much harder, increasing the chance of developing dental diseases.
When the teeth in the upper and lower jaw do not close together in harmony, it is called malocclusion. Crooked and crowded teeth are examples of malocclusion; and there are often many factors which lead to this condition. Very often, genetics play a major role. However, there are ways to improve the child’s chance of a straighter smile.
1. Avoid thumb and dummy sucking. Many toddlers and children take comfort in sucking their thumb or dummies. It is crucial to break this habit as early as possible as constant sucking can negatively impact their front teeth and gums.
2. Instill good oral hygiene. Children require supervised brushing until they are demonstrating good brushing ability. Monitor them to make sure they are brushing twice a day, for at least two minutes. Teeth and gums are affected when little care is given to brushing. Extensive dental decay can lead to prematurely losing a tooth which can cause tooth movement in the child’s mouth.
3. Regular dental check-ups. Having children’s teeth checked every 6-months by a dentist is important. Exposing them to regular oral health care from a young age means they are less likely to have dental anxiety or major treatment. Identifying problems early on also means the dentist will be able to give appropriate advice and predict whether early orthodontic intervention is required.
4. Be aware of early tooth loss. A tooth can be lost early from an accident or dental decay. When this happens, the neighbouring teeth will have loss of support due to the gap. The teeth may shift or tilt into the empty space, causing crooked teeth. Ensuring your child is wearing a mouthguard during sports is vital as it will protect their teeth from injury. If accidents do happen, make sure they are seen by the dentist as early as possible. Again, meticulous oral hygiene and regular dental check-ups are important to prevent dental decay.
Written by Dr Tiffany Ke. Dr Tiffany has graduated from University of Melbourne and has extensive experience in preventative and restorative dentistry.
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