While most new parents obsess over weight, height and other developmental milestones for their babies, there is one big area which they ignore. And that is dental care for kids! I did too! And unfortunately, we paid the price for it. You see babyT developed infant caries in his milk teeth. The only good part was that we saw an expert at the right time and found a solution before the condition got much worse.
That is why I make sure I tell all my readers about the importance of dental care for kids and why it is important to see an expert on children’s teeth at the right time. With this aim in mind I approached a friend – Dr Punitha S. Kamath who is a pediatric dentist, to tell me more about dental care for kids and tooth health for babies and children. Read on to know what she has to say, I am sure it will be an eye-opener for parents of children of all ages.
Introducing Dr Punitha S. Kamath
Dr Punitha S Kamath is a Consultant Pediatric dentist with 12 years of experience in general dentistry which includes 9 years of experience exclusive to Pediatric Dentistry.
A gold medallist and the “Best outgoing student” from her BDS batch, she has won several University ranks during both her graduation and post graduation (MDS). She has numerous International and National publications in reputed dental journals.
A mother herself, she enjoys working with children and believes that knowledge is imperative to achieving good health and hence is proactive in educating the general public, specifically parents, teachers and children about oral and dental health. Dr Punitha can be reached on email@example.com
My interview with Dr Punitha on dental care for kids
Who is a pediatric dentist? Can a regular dentist be consulted for babies and children?
A pediatric dentist is a specialist, who after completing graduation as a dentist, undergoes 3 extra years of training MDS – Master of Dental Sciences; in the management of the oral health needs of children, which includes infants to adolescents. This rigorous hands-on training also includes the comprehension of the general/ medical health of the age group and an in-depth understanding of child psychology.
Globally the norm says that up to the age of 18 a child can visit a pediatric dentist for their dental needs.
While it wouldn’t be wrong to visit a regular dentist, it is without a doubt a Pediatric dentist who would be a better choice when it comes to dental care for kids. Quite similar to how you would choose a Pediatrician over a General Physician for his/her general health.
When is the right time to visit a pediatric dentist?
Most Dental Associations worldwide, including in India, recommend that your child’s first dental visit should be at the age of 1 year (his or her first birthday – one of the best birthday gifts you could choose for them) or within 6 months of the eruption of their first milk tooth, whichever is earlier.
Many also recommend a prenatal visit for the pregnant mother, which I personally believe in. This appointment essentially would serve 2 purposes:
It gives us an opportunity to educate the mother about the oral health needs of her developing baby and this understanding will help her in choosing the right dental care for kids
It also gives us an opportunity to reduce the decay-causing organisms in the mother’s mouth, which if not controlled, would play a very important role in the causation of decay in the child.
What is the right oral hygiene to be maintained for babies?
Unlike what is usually assumed, you do not need to wait for the eruption of teeth before you begin taking care of them.
Right oral hygiene begins from the day of birth. The gums pads and tongue need to be wiped clean with clean wet gauze dipped in plain water. It is easy to just wrap it around your finger and give a good thorough swipe along all surfaces of the gum pads and then the tongue. This should be done every morning and night and preferably after every feed.
The first milk tooth usually erupts when the baby is between 6 to 10 months of age, and that is when you need to begin the use of the toothbrush.
The more commonly used finger brushes are usually recommended only to serve as a transition tool from gauze to a toothbrush. Their use for a just a couple of days to a week should be sufficient. Post this a good baby toothbrush should be used. Baby toothbrushes with a small head and large handle are considered the best.
And the most discussed question in mom groups – which toothpaste should we use?
Toothpaste is much more than just detergent because they contain many important ingredients which help maintain good oral health. For example, they contain anti- cavity, antibacterial and antifungal ingredients and hence their role in maintaining good oral hygiene is very important when it comes to dental care for kids.
One of the most important and well researched anti cavity substance used in toothpaste is fluoride. The only caveat to using a fluoridated toothpaste is that if the fluoride is swallowed in large amounts or chronically, then it could pose a health challenge. And since most children learn to spit only after the age of 2 to 3 years, fluoride-containing toothpaste is usually prescribed only post that age. Before which non-fluoridated toothpaste like Chicco, Pigeon, can be used.
In children older than 3 years of age, a fluoridated toothpaste like Pediflor or Kidodent is recommended (which contain 450 to 500 ppm of fluoride). But if your child is younger and has already learnt to spit, there is no harm in using a fluoridated toothpaste for them too.
Current recommendations also suggest the use of toothpaste with 1000 ppm of fluoride in children and studies have found no adverse effects from the same.
Here I would also like to mention that most ayurvedic toothpaste too contains fluoride. You can read through the ingredients list to check for the presence of fluoride. Also please avoid medicated toothpaste like Sensodyne unless prescribed.
Is there a norm about how much toothpaste to use for kids?
The recommended quantity is a smear or a rice grain size drop for a child below 2 years. And for children 3 and above a pea size amount of toothpaste is adequate.
The most important thing of all has to be brushing. At what age should we encourage kids to brush on their own?
We recommend that up to the age of 5 years, the parents or caregivers brush the teeth of the child. From 5 to 7 years – the child brushes his/her teeth, but under the supervision of the parent. And from 7 years onwards the child can begin brushing independently.
This recommendation is based on the neuromuscular development and dexterity of the child. And by no means should this be taken as a rigid age rule. No magic is going to make your child dexterous overnight on his or her 7th birthday. This is where your pediatric dentist would be able to guide you with the right time for your own child.
Another simple way to know if your child is ready for brushing independently is by checking if he or she knows to tie his or her shoelace. Since this activity also requires a similar kind of neuromuscular dexterity it could serve as a guide.
And when we talk about oral hygiene, brushing is supposed to be an activity that not only cleans one’s teeth off the debris but also stimulates and massages the gums. Along with this cleaning of the tongue is something which is oft missed and which then serves as a fantastic area for bacteria to thrive. Hence tongue cleaning should be diligently practised too. While tongue scrapers are good at cleaning the tongue, studies have shown that a toothbrush does the job better of cleaning the uneven surface of the tongue.
And finally something most important – remember your children imitate what you do so unless you the parent practice oral hygiene responsibly, you cannot expect your child to do the same.
But milk teeth will fall off anyway, is it important to pay special attention to them?
We are gifted with 2 sets of dentition only because they serve a purpose.
The first milk tooth erupts at the age of 6 to 10 months and the last one falls out at the age of 12 to 13 years, and sometimes even later. You wouldn’t want your child to live these 12 years with unhealthy teeth and thereby compromise on the quality of life of your child. Would you?
The purposes milk teeth serve are:
Help provide nutrition – milk teeth are necessary for proper chewing of food and hence for their digestion and which eventually is most important for normal growth and development of the child
Help make speech possible – milk teeth are necessary for the production and learning of specific sounds. Don’t believe me? Try saying L, F, T, N, V without using your teeth! Or try saying “teeth”. Not possible right?
Aid in the normal development of the jaw bones and facial muscles.
Add to an attractive appearance and hence affect a child’s self-esteem.
Reserve space for the permanent teeth and help guide them into position. Early loss of milk teeth leads to drifting of adjacent teeth to the empty space and hence contributes to malocclusion, requiring correction at a later date.
Hence they actually contribute to the overall health of the child.
Studies have shown that children with decayed milk teeth are often associated with a high risk of decay in permanent teeth too.
With so much at stake please do not delay in ensuring that you are on the right track with respect to dental care for kids.
Hope you found this interview and the topic of dental care for kids helpful. If you wish to get in touch with Dr Punitha please email her on firstname.lastname@example.org
Dental hygiene is taken very seriously at our place now that we have learnt the hard way. This is why I felt it would be good to share more information from an expert. The tips and suggestions given by Dr Punitha are insightful. Did you learn something new? Is there any other information on dental care for kids that you would like to know more about?