What are the common teeth problems in infants and toddlers?
Among all the other teeth problems, tooth caries or more commonly known as tooth decay is the most common issue among children and it’s rising rapidly. While tooth decay is not life endangering, it affects your child’s quality of life greatly. Severe tooth decay leads to negative impacts on appearances. Fortunately, it is a preventable disease.
What is tooth decay and what causes it?
Tooth decay is the softening of tooth enamel and this means that the surface of the tooth is damaged. This damage is caused by the acids that are produced when plaque breaks down sugar in your mouth. In simple terms, more sugar in your mouth leads to more acids formed, which damages your tooth enamel. When left untreated, a hole in your tooth (or cavity) can eventually occur. If nothing is done, the hole in the tooth gets bigger and destroys the whole tooth. The acids also destroy the next layer of the tooth called dentin and cause a root cavity. The nerves at the root will be affected and this is where your child experiences pain when eating or drinking.
What are the symptoms of early childhood caries and how to spot it?
Tooth decay begins with Early Childhood Caries, which can be identified by white spots on tooth. The white spots are chalky in color and appears on the surface of the enamel. These are signs that the enamel has lost minerals and it is a precursor of cavity. You will find that your child’s teeth is prone to breaking off can be scraped off. The white spots can turn yellow or brown. The white spots do not cause pain so it is important to keep a lookout of your child’s teeth as this is the stage where the decay can still be reversed.
Why is tooth decay getting more common among children?
Tooth decay is caused by a combination of factors, including bacteria in your mouth, frequent snacking, sipping sugary drinks and not cleaning your teeth well. When your teeth and gums are consistently exposed to large amounts of sugars, acids will form and eat away at the tooth enamel. These days, children are more exposed to carbohydrate-rich foods and sugary snacks such as candies, cookies soft drinks and fruit juices and as a result they become more prone causes of tooth decay.
These are some of the common habits that causes tooth decay:
- Consumption of sugary foods and drinks
Sugary foods such as honey, biscuits, cookies and dry cereals are ‘sticky sugars’ that cling to the teeth for a long time, hence they are more likely to cause decay as compared to foods that are easily washed away by saliva.
- Frequent snacking or sipping
Frequent snacking and sipping of sugary drinks give the bacteria in your mouth more fuel to produce acids that attack and wear the teeth down. If your child snacks frequently, there is a continual bath of acid over their teeth.
- Bedtime Infant feeding
Babies who are given bedtime bottle drinks like milk, formula, juice or other sugar-containing liquids, are more prone to tooth decay as the drinks remain on their teeth for hours while they are asleep. This fuels the decay-causing bacteria to form in their mouth. The same thing happens when toddlers wander around with drinking sippy cups filled with these beverages.
- Inadequate brushing
Young children do not have the right techniques to brush and adequately remove the plaque on their teeth. While training the kids to brush their teeth, parents should do it one more time for the kid after the training to properly clean until the toddler reach 7 years old.
- Not getting enough fluoride
Fluoride is a natural mineral and prevents tooth decay and can even reverse the earliest stages of tooth decay. Fluoride is added to many public water supplies and is a common ingredient in toothpastes and mouth rinses. Many children toothpastes do not contain fluoride or contains insignificant amount of fluoride because of the fear of dental fluorosis in children. However instead of avoiding toothpastes that contain fluoride, parents should be vigilant and supervise children while brushing teeth, ensuring your toddlers spit out the toothpastes. Avoiding fluoride toothpaste leads to another tooth problem, which is tooth decay.
How will it affect your child’s quality of life?
Tooth decay causes pain and discomfort which leads to a lack of appetite, difficulties in sleeping and chewing; affecting their growth and development. They might experience poor self-esteem and social isolation, speech development problems and they are at a higher risk of new decay in other baby teeth. Tooth decay in baby teeth also leads to damage to developing permanent teeth, misaligned jaws or overcrowding of teeth. These problems affect the appearance of your child significantly. In summary tooth decay is a root of teeth and gum issues in adulthood.
Other dental problems that your child might experience:
Sensitive Teeth occurs when tooth enamel is worn down over time. The gums may diminish and exposing the inner tooth and cause irritation to nerve endings. In this case, hot and cold food and drinks can cause pain or irritation to people with sensitive teeth. Breathing in cold air can be painful for those with extremely sensitive teeth.
Gum disease happens with a sticky film or bacteria called plaque. The early stages of gum disease can be identified by red and swollen gums and gums that bleed easily. As the disease worsens, the teeth may fall out. Gum disease is prevented by daily brushing and flossing. One indicator of gum disease is consistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth.
Bad Breath (Halitosis)
Bad breath is caused by a build-up of deteriorating food particles, plaque and bacteria in mouth. Consistent bad breath that is not caused by strong-smelling foods (e.g garlic, onions etc) may be a sign of gum disease or other dental problems.
These ulcers have a white or grey base surrounded by a red border. It can occur quite frequently and last for 1 to 2 weeks. You can use antimicrobial mouthwashes or topical agents to reduce the duration of sores.
Problems may include a bite that does not meet properly, misaligned jaws, crowded teeth, missing or extra teeth. Some may be caused by accidents or development issues like finger or thumb sucking over an extended period of time.