A beautiful set of white teeth is an asset for life. It not only enhances our beauty but it also reflects the general health condition of the person. Healthy dental habits instilled during childhood go a long way in protecting our teeth from numerous dental problems.
Care of teeth
Care of teeth should begin right when teething begins in infants. Teething starts around the age of 5-6 months. Clean the teeth with a clean soft cloth after every feed. Start brushing the child’s teeth when she/he is about one year age, when about eight to ten baby teeth have come out.
It is necessary to clean/brush the baby’s teeth to remove any form of sugar or food particles that might remain stuck to the teeth after a feed. The food particles that remain stuck on the teeth react with the bacteria present on the teeth surface and produce an acid that eats away the teeth enamel (causing painful cavities). Brushing is also required to remove the tartar that keeps forming and depositing on the teeth surface. This layer of tartar, yellowish in color, not only makes the teeth appear ugly, but it is this matter that contains bacteria. Regular and frequent cleaning of teeth removes this layer of tartar and also the food particles, sugar from juices and other beverages that the child may have.
Ideally we should brush our teeth after every meal. Brushing two times in a day is a must. Once in the morning and once before going to bed at night. In the morning you can actually feel the layer of tartar on your teeth if you run your tongue on the teeth surface. This tartar has to be brushed off. It is essential to brush after dinner because if some food particle remains stuck in the teeth, it will get a sufficiently long time, when you sleep, to react with the bacteria and harm the teeth.
For toddlers, use a small tooth brush with soft bristles. Do not use any tooth paste for infants below the age of one. Very little toothpaste paste should be used for kids up to the age of six, just enough to clean their teeth without swallowing. After six years age the amount should be increased to that for adults, the size of a pea.
Till the child is of five years age take the responsibility of brushing her teeth daily on yourself. Because till the age of five children do not develop sufficient control on the required brush movements and therefore they cannot reach all parts of the mouth. You can let them brush themselves by the age of five. Tell them the right way of brushing; up & down, round and round. Hold their hand and teach them the movements to clean different sides of the teeth inside out. Teach the child not to swallow the paste but spit it out and rinse the mouth thoroughly after brushing. Even when the child brushes himself, take the toothbrush and brush his teeth properly before rinsing. Continue this practice till the child learns to brush properly.
- Do not press the toothbrush too much on the teeth. Too much pressing damages the teeth.
- Change the toothbrush when the bristles start bending.
- Clean and rinse the tooth brush thoroughly after brushing, to prevent any formation of harmful germs in it.
When you brush the child’s teeth, keep an eye for any abnormalities like discoloring, cavities, bleeding etc. Yellowish tinge on the teeth means it is not being cleaned properly. Any brown spot may be an indication of cavity and decay of tooth and bleeding is a symptom of weak or infected gums. If you happen to find any such thing consult your dentist immediately before the decay and infection spreads painfully.
Develop the habit of rinsing the mouth thoroughly after every meal. (This is a typical Indian habit, a very healthy one.) Raw salad after meal also cleans the teeth to some extent.
Children love sweets, candies and chocolates. The intake of these should be strictly limited because these are really harmful for the teeth as they are full of sugar and have the tendency to get stuck between the teeth. If the child insists on having candies and chocolates, make him brush his teeth (even if without toothpaste) after having one. Sweets should not remain stuck in the teeth in any case.
Do not ignore the baby teeth thinking that they will fall off. Infections may to the gums which may affect later too.
Common dental problems
- Thumb sucking- Thumb sucking has serious implications on the shape of the palate and the placement of teeth. Too much thumb sucking gradually pushes the front teeth up from its normal position, pushing up the upper lip in turn. This pushed up teeth and lip, due to thumb sucking affects the overall face appearance. It also affects the placement of the permanent teeth, which may have to be corrected with braces. It is therefore wise to nip this habit in the bud. Children suck thumb due to psychological needs like comfort, security etc. Just keep removing the finger from the mouth and gently saying ‘no’, whenever the child puts his finger in the mouth, even as an infant. If you do this from the very beginning, you can easily nip the problem in the bud, without resorting to scolding and punishments later.
- Cavity/tooth decay- When sugar from food left on the teeth react with the bacteria present on the teeth, an acid is formed which eats away the tooth enamel. This causes cavity or hole in the teeth in the form of brownish patches, decay or holes. The cavity becomes painful when it reaches the roots of the teeth. If cavities are neglected it will lead to total tooth damage and spread of infection to gums and root.
- Gum diseases- Infection of the gums is very painful. Bleeding from gums and pain are the symptoms of gum infection. Unhealthy dental practices/habits lead to unhealthy gums. Untreated cavities can also spread to the gums. It is therefore very important to keep the teeth clean and healthy, so that gums remain healthy.
- Problems during occurrence of permanent teeth- Baby teeth start falling around the age of six and are replaced by permanent teeth. The normal procedure is the baby teeth starts loosening gradually and then falls off well before the permanent teeth begin growing. But one abnormality which is becoming quiet common now is that the permanent teeth starts appearing even before the baby teeth have fallen. This distorts the positioning of the permanent teeth, which naturally has to find some place other than the normal which is still occupied by the baby teeth. In such cases consult the doctor before the permanent teeth grows fully. If the baby tooth is quite strong and the permanent tooth is fast growing it will have to be extracted by the dentist to allow proper space for the permanent tooth. If the baby tooth is already loose the dentist may simply recommend the child to pushing the baby tooth with his tongue to hasten its natural extraction. At the same time the child should also push the new teeth with his tongue to move it to its right position.
Do not ignore your child’s teeth to save him from pain. The responsibility of keeping the teeth of kids upto the age of six is entirely on the parents. Healthy dental habits are very simple to follow. Be a role model and keep guiding the child with age appropriate instructions. Healthy habits begin early and it’s the most important treasure you give to your child for life!