Even though baby teeth are eventually replaced with permanent teeth, keeping baby teeth healthy is important to a child’s overall health and well-being.There are a number of problems that affect the oral health of children.
Baby bottle tooth decay also called early childhood caries, nursing caries and nursing bottle syndrome occurs when a baby’s is between 18 months and 3 years of age and baby’s teeth are in frequent contact with sugars from liquid carbohydrates, such as fruit juices, milk, formula, fruit juice diluted with water, sugar water or any other sweet drink. Human breast milk can cause tooth decay as well. As these liquids break down in the mouth into simple sugars and are allowed to sit in the mouth, bacteria start feeding on the sugars, causing tooth decay. If this left untreated decayed teeth can cause pain and make it difficult for child to chew and eat. Baby’s teeth also serve as “space maintainers or saver” for adult teeth. If baby teeth are damaged or destroyed, they can’t help guide permanent teeth into their proper position, possibly resulting in crowded or crooked permanent teeth. Badly decayed baby teeth could lead to an abscessed tooth, with the possibility of infection spreading elsewhere. The upper front teeth are most vulnerable to damage from nursing bottle mouth.
The American Dental Association gives the following tips to prevent baby bottle tooth decay:
- Try not to share saliva with the baby through common use of feeding spoons or licking pacifiers. After each feeding, wipe your child’s gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or washcloth.
- When your child’s teeth come in, brush them gently with a child-size toothbrush and a smear (or grain of rice sized amount) of fluoride toothpaste until the age of 3.
- Brush the teeth with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste from the ages of 3 to 6.
- Supervise brushing until your child can be counted on to spit and not swallow toothpaste—usually not before he or she is 6 or 7.
- Place only formula, milk or breast milk in bottles. Avoid filling the bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks.
- Infants should finish their bedtime and nap time bottles before going to bed.
- If your child uses a pacifier, provide one that is clean—don’t dip it in sugar or honey.
- Encourage your child to drink from a cup by his/her first birthday.
- Encourage healthy eating habits.
Thumb sucking is the placement of thumb or one or more fingers in varying depths in the mouth. Generally, it’s normal and healthy for infants to suck their thumbs, fingers, pacifiers or toys. Object sucking gives children a sense of emotional security and comfort. However, if thumb sucking continues beyond the age of 5 ,when the permanent teeth begin to erupt, dental problems may occur. Depending on the frequency, intensity, and duration of the sucking, the teeth can be pushed out of alignment, causing them to protrude and create an overbite. The child may also have difficulty with the correct pronunciation of words. In addition, the upper and lower jaws can become misaligned and the roof of the mouth might become malformed.
Here are 9 tips to try and curb thumb sucking:
- DO try to limit the time that your child sucks his thumb to his bedroom or in the house, not in public, Berman says. Explain to him that this is a bed activity during nap time and at night.
- DON’T turn it into a confrontation. “Don’t tell your child, ‘You cannot suck your thumb anymore,'” Anderson says. “Try to recognize him and praise him when he’s not sucking his thumb instead of criticizing when he is.”
- DO talk to your child about her thumb sucking or finger sucking. “Help your child understand that when she is ready to stop, you will be there to help,” Berman says. “She will eventually come to you and tell you, ‘Mommy, I don’t want to suck my thumb anymore,’ because you’ve empowered her to get there.”
- DON’T prohibit your child if he tries to suck his thumb or fingers after being hurt or injured. “He needs to be in his comfort zone, and by not letting him go there, you’re only traumatizing him more,” Berman says.
- DO practice self-awareness with your child. “When your child is sucking his thumb, ask him, ‘Do you know you are sucking your thumb now?'” Hayes says. “If he says no, help him recognize that, and find another way to soothe him if he needs it, like a blanket or stuffed animal.”
- DON’T use the nasty-tasting stuff that is marketed to stop thumb sucking and finger sucking. “It’s just cruel,” Berman says. “It’s pulling the rug out from under your child and that’s not fair.”
- DO come up with creative ways to help your child understand that he is growing up and one day won’t suck his thumb anymore. “Ask your child, ‘Do you think Bob the Builder sucks his thumb?'” Hayes says. “Then they’ll think about, and start to process whether they want to be sucking their thumbs anymore.”
- DON’T try a glove or a mitten on the hand as a quick-fix to thumb or finger sucking. “This will just frustrate them and cause more anxiety,” Anderson says. “Likely, they’re old enough to just take it off, and as a result, they’ll just want to suck more.”
- DO remember that a child will grow out of the need for thumb sucking or finger sucking when he’s good and ready. “While parents may not like it, it’s best left alone,” Berman says. “Kids will eventually give it up.”
Lip sucking involves repeatedly holding the lower lip beneath the upper front teeth. Sucking of the lower lip may occur by itself or in combination with thumb sucking. This practice results in an overbite and the same kinds of problems as with thumb sucking and tongue thrusting. Stopping the habit involves the same steps as for stopping thumb sucking.
Early Tooth Loss
Premature loss of a child’s primary teeth typically occurs due to tooth decay, injury, or lack of jaw space.
If teeth are lost before the permanent teeth emerge, the nearby teeth can tip or shift into the space now unoccupied. When a permanent tooth tries to emerge into its space, there may not be enough room. The new tooth may emerge tilted. Crooked or misaligned teeth can cause a range of problems from interfering with proper chewing to causing temporomandibular joint problems.
If your child loses a tooth prematurely, your dentist may recommend a space maintainer. A space maintainer is a plastic or metal device that holds open the space left by the missing tooth. Your dentist will remove the device once the permanent teeth begin to erupt.