Paediatric dentistry is the branch of dentistry which specialises in looking after the teeth of children, from birth until they reach adolescence. Practitioners focus on the growth and development of the child’s teeth through this period, via a mixture of prevention, treatment, advice and the establishment, together with the parents, of a rigorous dental hygiene regime. Another important aspect of paediatric dentistry lies in the psychological approach to the field. Many people can grow up suffering from dental phobia thanks to a bad experience early on in life, and the best paediatric dentists will make it their business to ensure that the children they treat have no fear of visiting the surgery whatsoever. The Importance of Primary Teeth Many people make the mistake of assuming that their children’s first teeth or primary teeth (often referred to as ‘baby teeth’) aren’t as important as the teeth that grow through later as they are only temporary in nature. This is a mistake, however, since the condition, placement and overall health of primary teeth can play an important role in the development of permanent teeth. Primary teeth play a vital part in the following:
Rather than merely being a ‘dry run’ for permanent teeth, primary teeth play a vital role in laying firm foundations for a lifetime of excellent dental health, and it should be remembered that whilst a child’s 4 front teeth will have been replaced by the age of 6 or 7, their back teeth have to last and stay healthy until somewhere between 10 and 13 years of age. Caring for Your Child’s Teeth It’s never too soon to start brushing your child’s teeth. Some dentists recommend gently massaging the gums before the teeth even appear, using your finger and some sterile water. Not only will this help to prevent any build-up of harmful bacteria, but it will also get your child used to the idea of cleaning inside their mouth from the earliest possible age. When teeth begin emerging through the gums, it’s time to begin a daily cleaning regime. At first, you simply need to gently scrub with a clean brush, but once your child is old enough to know not to swallow toothpaste, you can begin using a blob of fluoride toothpaste the size of a pea. By the time they are 4 or 5 they should be able to clean their own teeth, albeit under your supervision. If you’re unsure as to whether your child is ready to be left to their own devices, never be afraid to ask the advice of your dentist. It is also a good idea to have a word with your dental hygienist about your own brushing technique. Many people use a less than effective technique, and may end up passing their bad habits onto their children. Effective cleaning means the removal of plaque from the visible front face of the teeth, but also from the inner surface which is hidden and the biting and chewing surfaces. Children should be taught to scrub in a gentle circular motion, holding the brush at an angle of 45 degrees and not pressing too hard. Brushing should also last for at least 2 minutes, evenly divided over the different sectors of the mouth. Children’s brushes can be purchased with a built in timer, or piece of music which plays for the correct duration. After cleaning their teeth, children should be taught to scrub their tongues to get rid of bacteria and freshen their breath. Flossing manages to reach the plaque which brushes can’t get to, such as that trapped between teeth, and you should floss between your child’s teeth until they are old enough to do it for themselves. The Importance of a Good Diet No matter how well you teach your child to clean their teeth, and how often you visit the dentist, it will all be to no avail if you don’t combine it with a healthy diet. Teeth, like any other part of the body, stay healthy if the person concerned is eating a varied and balanced diet, with foodstuffs taken from each of the major food groups. The five food groups concerned are fruit, vegetables, grains, meat and dairy. As well as eating a diet which is healthy overall, children should be taught not to snack too often, as it is snacking which leads to an increased risk of cavities, especially if your child enjoys, as most of them do, snacking on sweet sugary items. Another factor in the cavity risk presented by any food is the amount of time it spends in the mouth. Hard confectionary, for example, which takes a long time to crunch or chew, allows the acid created by the reaction of bacteria with sugar to attack the tooth enamel for much longer. When your child does snack, try to offer them healthy options such as vegetables, low fat cheese and low fat yoghurts. Preventing Cavities Cavities are caused by the combination of bacteria, which is naturally harboured in a warm, wet place like your mouth, and left over food debris. Keeping your child’s mouth clean, then, is the key to stopping cavities forming. One vital tip is to avoid putting your baby to bed with a bottle of juice or milk in their mouth. If you must do so, put nothing other than water in the bottle, since any other drink contains sugars which will then have the whole night to wreak their havoc. As children get older, preventing cavities can be broken down into simple steps:
Get these few basic steps right, and you’ll be pointing your child in the direction of good dental health lasting a lifetime.