Should you ignore tooth decay in your child?
The incidence of tooth decay in young children increases globally each year, yet parents tend to overlook the possibility of it occurring on their children. Here’s why it’s important for your child to adopt proper oral care habits from young.
What is tooth decay and what are its causes?
Among teeth problems, tooth decay (or also known as tooth caries) is the most common issue among children and it’s rising rapidly across the world. While tooth decay is not life endangering, it has both immediate and long-term implications. Severe cases could also lead to negative impacts on appearances and self-esteem.
Tooth decay is caused by the softening of tooth enamel from the acids that are produced when plaque breaks down sugar in your child’s mouth. In simpler terms, the more sugar in the mouth, the more acids are formed, which damages the tooth enamel. When left untreated, a cavity in your child’s tooth can develop. Eventually, the hole in the tooth gets larger and penetrates deeper into the 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 extreme pain when eating or drinking.
Fortunately, tooth decay is preventable if detected early!
What are the early symptoms of tooth decay and how do you spot it?
When chalky white spots appear on your child’s tooth surface, these are early signs that the enamel has lost its minerals. You will notice that the teeth are prone to breaking or scraped off. The white spots may also turn yellow or brown. While the spots do not cause pain, it is important to see your dentist immediately as it is this stage where tooth decay can still be reversed.
Why is tooth decay becoming more common among children?
Common culprits cause tooth decay are sugary snacks such as candies, cookies, soft drinks and fruit juices. With these sugary snacks and drinks being readily available, overconsumption will not only lead to childhood obesity, but also tooth decay if their teeth are not well taken care of.
These are some of the common habits which cause tooth decay:
- Consumption of sugary foods and drinks
When the teeth and gums are exposed to sugars, acids will form and dissolve away the tooth enamel. 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 other foods that are easily washed away by saliva.
- Frequent snacking or sipping
Frequent snacking and sipping of sugary drinks continuously fuel the bacteria in the mouth to produce acids that attack and wear the teeth down. If your child snacks frequently, it becomes a continual coating of acid over their teeth.
- Bedtime feeding
Babies who are given bedtime bottle drinks like milk, juice or other sugar-containing beverages, 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. It is recommended that parents supervise their brushing daily until the child reaches 7 years old.
- Insufficient exposure to fluoride
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral and is a critical ingredient in preventing tooth decay. Contrary to some beliefs, fluoride is a safe ingredient for babies as long as the correct amount is applied – rice grain size for children up to 3 years old, pea size for 3 years and above. Instead of avoiding fluoride toothpastes altogether, parents supervise children while brushing teeth and ensuring their children spit out the toothpaste.
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. In severe cases of tooth decay where the tooth has to be prematurely extracted, the space where the tooth used to be may be compromised, thus the alignment of future permanent teeth will also be affected.
In conclusion, prevention with proper oral care habits is still the way to go. While the effects of tooth decay may be daunting, it is a treatable condition when detected early. Supervise your child’s brushing daily until they reach 7 years old, so that they can confidently flash those pearlie whites when they reach adulthood!