Healthy teeth for kids

Family dentist Dr Duaa Dergham shares her teeth cleaning tips Discuss this article

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Getting young children to brush their teeth may not be too hard but getting them to do it in the right way is a different matter entirely. Good dental hygiene is important to good health for the whole body, not just the teeth and gums. To ensure that your child grows up to have healthy gums and a beautiful smile we’ve asked the experts for some tips.

How soon should you start cleaning a baby’s mouth? Before or after they get teeth?
You should introduce the concept of oral hygiene as soon as possible, so consider cleaning your baby’s mouth from birth. The gums and tongue can be cleaned using a wet gauze or cloth. In terms of brushing, you can start using a toothbrush as soon as your baby’s tooth erupts. Not only does it get them used to the sensation early on, but regular brushing from the word go will ensure the health of their milk teeth.

As children’s first teeth fall out anyway, why is it so important to make sure that they are well maintained?
There are several very important reasons why first teeth need to be well looked after. First of all, they are going to be around for a long time – at least seven or eight years, so it’s worth making sure they stay healthy. Secondly, first teeth perform certain vital functions: they help children learn correct speech and pronunciation, it’s pretty difficult to chew food without them, they are a space maintainer for the second teeth, and they are aesthetically important. Moreover, it’s much better to avoid the possibility of children getting toothache and swellings which might lead to early extractions and an unpleasant history of dental treatment if the primary teeth are not looked after.

How soon can children learn to start flossing, and why is it so important?
The answer to this one is ‘as soon as possible’. In fact, once babies have two adjacent teeth, parents should start to floss for them. By nine years old, children should be able to floss their teeth effectively by themselves. Flossing regularly is important because it’s the only way to clean in between your teeth properly, and studies also show that flossing (as part of a good oral hygiene routine) can have a direct impact on a person’s overall health.

At what age does mouthwash become part of the routine?
There are similar claims made for mouthwash as they are for toothpastes. They freshen the mouth and prevent tooth decay. Most brands of mouthwash contain fluoride as well, and they have antiseptic and antibacterial properties. So they can be beneficial for children. However, the risk of consuming the toxins if they swallow the mouthwash, means it is inadvisable for children under 12 years old to use it. We prescribe mouthwash only to kids when it is necessary (for gum disease – or post surgery) and it’s very important that it’s used under strict supervision to avoid swallowing.

When should you take a trip to the orthodontist to enquire about braces?
Trips to the general or paediatric dentist are a must, and should be done every six months. The dentist will follow the eruption sequence and the growth of the child’s arches, while a paediatric dentist will be responsible for referring children who need to be seen by the orthodontist.

There are so many different toothbrush styles out there. Which ones are good for kids teeth, and which ones should be avoided?
Children should be able to choose their own toothbrushes as long as they are age-appropriate. There are plenty of novelty styles out there and it can help to make ‘teeth brushing time’ much more fun. At the end of the day, it’s not really about the toothbrush. It’s more about the proper brushing techniques to clean their teeth properly.

There’s a lot of controversy over whether fluoride treatments are a good thing. If you are using fluoride toothpaste anyway, why would you need it additionally – and what are the benefits?
Normally, brushing with fluoride toothpaste is enough if done properly. There are a few situations where extra fluoride supplement is needed, for example, with rampant cavities or nursing cavities syndrome, in which most of the first teeth will be affected by decay. In these cases, the fluoride will be prescribed with an age-related dosage by the dentist for a certain period of time, depending on the severity and prognosis of the case.

Should children ever use whitening products on their teeth? If not, why not?
I would not advise the use of whitening products for children who still have their first set of teeth, as the chemicals might be damaging to the tooth structures and to the gums. Even for the adults, we use these materials with caution, as misuse can lead to gingivitis and sensitivity of the teeth. The primary teeth are already whiter than the permanent or adult teeth, anyway.

What first aid can you administer for tooth or gum injuries in small children?
The most common mouth injuries are to the lips, gum, cheek and tongue. Mouth injuries in children usually look much worse than they really are. There are so many blood vessels in these areas that even a tiny cut on your little one’s lip or tongue can cause a lot of bleeding. To stop the bleeding, apply gentle pressure to the area with a piece of gauze or a clean cloth and keep it cool.

To numb and ease the pain and reduce the swelling, apply an ice pack (or a bag of frozen veggies) to the area. If your child’s old enough to handle one, sucking on an ice lolly may also soothe a minor mouth injury. Provide pain relief as needed and feed with care. While the cut is on the mend, keep your little one’s diet on the bland side (anything acidic, like orange juice or salty food, may sting). If the cut is inside the mouth, a softer-than-usual diet may also be less likely to irritate. Rinsing with warm water after meals (if that skill has already been mastered) will keep food from accumulating in a mouth cut. Minor mouth injuries in children (and again, most are minor) usually heal in three to four days. Call your doctor if there is heavy non-stop bleeding.
Paediatric dentistry is available at the Gulf Diagnostic Center Hospital (02 665 8090).

By Angela Beitz
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

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