kids oral health

The mouth is the leading portal for nutrition to the body. Kids require that extra nutrient value for proper growth and development. Oral health is one of the essential aspects of overall health and well-being of a child. New parents are usually unaware of the importance of maintaining the proper oral hygiene of their kids.

To be specific, oral care of a child begins way before the eruption of the first baby tooth in the mouth. Healthy gums contribute to a more youthful smile, especially during difficult times like teething.

Teething is a process that every child goes through in life. During this period, the child becomes fuzzy and irritated. Moreover, the child tends to bit on hard objects. By keeping the gums clean, you can set a precedent for a healthy life and future for your kids. Several oral health problems can make a child’s tooth vulnerable. Some of them include tooth decay, gum disease, tongue thrusting, thumb sucking, and early tooth loss.

Many parents don’t care about the baby teeth as these set of teeth get replaced by permanent teeth. However, it is essential to note that healthy primary teeth lead to proper growth and development of permanent teeth.

Regular dental visits are crucial for infant oral healthcare. Let’s read the article further to understand the different dental problems that may affect your child’s oral health. Additionally, we will also discuss different pediatric dental treatments available for the betterment of your child’s oral health.

What is the importance of baby teeth and gums?

The first year of an infant is full of milestones that include the following –

Baby gums and teeth

The first smile of the baby often reflects the health of the gums. Gums or gum pads are one of the most critical oral tissues that help the baby in feeding during the process of suckling. Moreover, baby gums harbor the development of the primary teeth.

Often parent’s neglect the gums and do not take any measures to keep it clean. They assume that oral health begins only after the eruption of teeth in the child’s mouth. But on the contrary, good oral hygiene is essential right from the beginning as it creates a healthy oral environment for future teeth. (1)

The first set of teeth usually erupts around six months of age. This is the time when the baby switches to a solid diet.

Such oral changes are significant for proper growth and development of the child. The teeth and surrounding tissues play a crucial role in speech development. It is, therefore, essential for parent’s to pay attention to their oral health and well-being right from the time of birth.

Teething and its symptoms

Teething Ring safety

Teething is a process that prepares the child for tooth eruption. The primary teeth or milk teeth emerge in pairs through the gums in sequential order. Although the outbreak of the first set of teeth is a new milestone in the life of an infant, it can be painful and irritating. (2) Usually, the process of teething begins between the age of four and seven. However, some children may experience teething as early as two or three months of age. Typical signs of teething include –

  • Swollen and tender gums
  • Fuzzy and irritable behavior
  • Frequent crying episodes
  • Slightly high fever
  • An urge to chew on hard objects
  • Excessive drooling
  • Changes in eating or sleep patterns

Often cold objects provide comfort to the baby’s gums; for example, a cold pacifier, spoon, clean wet washcloth, and a chilled teething toy. It is essential to note that frozen teething toys are harmful to the baby’s gum. Make sure the toy is clean and cool but not frozen. (3) For babies around 6-9 months of age, you can use cold water in sippy cups to help relieve the gum pain. Gentle gum massages are a bonus for the well-being of the baby during teething.

It is always better to try natural means of pain relief. However, if the baby’s gum pain persists try using teething gel. Topical application of the gel on the gums can provide instant pain relief. However, stay away from teething gels that contain benzocaine as it can e toxic for your child. Ask your dentist for the best pain relief recommendations to save your child from an unnecessary oral health problem.

What are the common pediatric dental problems?

Early childhood caries

Early childhood caries, also known as baby bottle disease,  is one of the most prevalent types of dental problem that children experience in their life. (4) Some of the factors that contribute to the formation of this disease include –

  • Food rich in sugar and carbohydrate
  • Acidic fruit juices like citrus drinks
  • Prolonged bottle-feeding with sweetened milk or water
  • Poor oral hygiene

The extent of tooth decay depends on the oral health care routine followed by the parents to take care of the child’s teeth and gums. Failure to maintain good oral hygiene may cause tooth pain, abscess formation, and eventual loss of the tooth.

Oral habits

why do babies suck their thumb

  • Tongue thrusting – tongue thrusting as the name suggests involves the practice of sealing the mouth during swallowing by thrusting the tongue forward against the lips. This habit puts constant pressure on the upper front teeth, which pushes them out of alignment and leads to an overbite. Moreover, tongue thrusting interferes with speech development. (5)
  • Thumb sucking – often children with a sense of emotional insecurity and fear tend to adopt the habit of thumb sucking. This habit may be common until the age of five years. However, beyond this period, the thumb-sucking practice may interfere with the alignment of permanent upper incisors.
  • Lip biting – lip biting is a repetitive habit of holding the lower lip beneath the upper incisors. Constant lip-biting causes misalignment of the upper incisors leading to overbite and forward placement of the teeth.

Treatments for habit break usually involves positive reinforcement and professional orthodontic care.

Early tooth loss

Premature loss of baby teeth is a common occurrence in children with a high risk of tooth decay and gum disease. It is essential to maintain in the space for permanent tooth eruption. Failure to do so will allow the adjacent teeth to shift into the area that causes permanent tooth impaction. Moreover, the early loss of primary teeth is the prime cause for malocclusions, change in bite, and temporomandibular joint problems.

What are the treatments available for kid’s dental problems?

First dental visit

First dental visits for kids are usually short and involve very little treatment. It is mainly done to familiarize the child to the dental staff and surroundings in a friendly way. There are many techniques used to build a rapport with the child; for example –

  • The dentist may ask the parent to sit in the dental chair and hold the child during an oral examination.
  • In other cases, the parent may be asked to wait in the reception area so that a healthy relationship can be built between the child and the dentist.

Oral examinations for children usually include a thorough inspection of the teeth and gums to check for cavities, tooth decay, and gum disease. Additionally, the dentist may check the oral tissues to look for any problems that may indicate an oral habit such as tongue thrusting or thumb sucking. A thorough teeth cleaning is also done to relieve the anxiety of the child and to educate them about oral health and hygiene.

Dental x-rays are essential to locate the extent and location of the decay. Often, x-rays detect initial demineralization of the teeth that may not be visible to the naked eye. As the child continuously grows and develops, a periodic x-ray evaluation in every six months or a year is necessary to keep a check on the oral health status. Digital radiography is the best means of taking x-rays as it reduces the radiation exposure to as low as 1/4th of the radiation from traditional dental x-rays.

Common pediatric dental procedures

There is a wide range of procedures performed to maintain the health of the teeth and gums of a child.  Some of the standard dental procedures for kids are listed below as follows –

Teeth cleaning

Professional teeth cleaning methods involve the removal of plaque and tartar, which are a potential cause for cavities and gum disease. Tooth cleaning consists of the use of an ultrasonic scaler that scrapes the tooth surface to remove the plaque. This step is followed by polishing of the tooth surface to remove surface roughness. A periodic tooth cleaning every six months is essential to maintain the health and development of the teeth and gums.

Fluoride treatments

Fluoride treatments are a preventive measure used to remineralize the decalcified spots. Usually, the fluoride found in drinking water is not sufficient for the protection of baby teeth from dental caries. Usually, the dentist evaluates the need for fluoride in a particular patient and offers fluoride treatment to provide added protection to the enamel.

This process requires careful interpretation and balance to avoid tooth damage with excess fluoride. (6) Fluoride treatment can be provided in the form of fluoride gel, foam, or paint. Usually, the right amount of material is taken into dental trays and placed in contact with the teeth to allow fluoride absorption.

Sealant placement

Sealants are white plastic coatings that are thinner and flowable as compared to traditional tooth filling materials. This procedure involves the placement of sealant on the pits and grooves of the molars as they are prone to plaque entrapment. The small grooves and cracks on the occlusal surface of molars have increased risk of tooth decay and cavity formation. Most of the times, these surfaces do not benefit from fluoride treatments. Therefore, they require extra care by sealant placement. The best time to get sealant therapy is right after the eruption of first permanent molars. Sealants usually last for 5-10 years with proper care and maintenance.

Caries management

One of the most progressive diseases of young children is toot decay. Usually, tooth decay is caused by inadequate oral hygiene. Excessive accumulation of plaque and bacteria leads to increased production of bacterial acids that weaken the tooth enamel. As the disease progresses, the decay extends to the dentinal layer forming a cavity on the tooth surface. Caries management involves the removal of the decayed tissue and repair of the tooth structure with a tooth-colored filling.

Pulp therapy

The infected pulp is usually treated with pulpectomy – a treatment that involves cleaning of infected nerves and blood vessels in the tooth. Two main reasons may require pulp therapy –

  • Extensive tooth decay that consists of the pulp tissue (7)
  • Traumatic injury to the tooth that consists of the pulp tissue

The prime purpose of pulp therapy is to extend the life of the baby tooth and avoid the need for tooth extraction. This process supports natural growth and development of the underlying permanent tooth.

Stainless steel crown placement

Stainless steel crown is usually used to protect the tooth that has undergone pulp therapy. Additionally, badly broken teeth or extensive tooth decay that do not allow the bonding of tooth filling may require stainless steel crowns. Typically, stainless steel crowns are pre-fabricated silver color crowns that come in various sizes to fit the tooth correctly. These crowns are cemented to the tooth and may come out with the tooth during shedding.

Tooth extractions and space maintenance

Tooth extraction I the last resort in case of extensive tooth decay. However, in some cases, tooth extractions may be required for orthodontic treatment. Space maintainers are appliances that are used to hold the space for the developing permanent tooth to erupt naturally. Failure to maintain the space may allow the adjacent teeth to drift into the extraction site, which blocks the path of eruption for the underlying permanent tooth. Such situations create a misalignment of permanent teeth and increase the chance of orthodontic care.

Orthodontic care

Dentists usually keep an eye on malocclusions or bite problems that may actively intervene to guide the permanent teeth in the mouth. Interceptive orthodontic procedures are accurately performed to prevent the need for more extensive treatment in the future. (8)

These procedures involve an early assessment of malocclusion, bite correction, and jaw alignment. Additionally, habit break appliances help to improve and gradually eliminate tongue thrusting, thumb sucking, and lip biting habits.

A note on special needs dentistry

Special needs dentistry is a branch of dentistry that provides additional training to a dental professional to work with children with special needs. Children with developmental difficulties such as physical, mental, or sensory impairments require special attention and empathy. (9) Some of the developmental disabilities may include autism, down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, depression, and visual or hearing impairments. Dentists specialized in this field empathize well with such children and help to provide the best dental care.

Overview of kids oral health

Every parent wants their child to live a healthy life. Taking proper oral health care is an essential step towards building a robust foundation for the child. Kids oral health care begins right from the time the baby is born. Gum care is as critical as tooth care. One of the prime dental problems that occur in children is early childhood caries. It is a rapidly progressive disease that can lead to premature loss of baby teeth.

Other dental problems like tongue thrusting, thumb sucking, and lip biting are secondary to caries development and may cause misalignment of the teeth. Parents must know about preventive oral treatments. Moreover, they should pay attention to the health of the teeth hand gums of the child.

Several treatments options like sealants, fluoride application, tooth filling, and orthodontic care are available to take care of your child’s oral health needs. Dental consultations can help to guide you towards the betterment of your child’s oral health and well-being.