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The best gift any parent can give their child is a smile. A parent’s world revolves around their child and keeping them happy. It starts from picking the best baby food, diaper, clothes and moves on to bigger decisions like schools and career. In the quest for the best, certain aspects get neglected or worsened by indulgence; one such being oral health.

Even if you choose the best brands of chocolates and fast food, it will still affect the teeth and the ill- effects can’t be countered by even the best brand of children’s toothpaste. Poor oral hygiene ultimately leads to discolored teeth, bad breath, tooth ache and cavities.

Tooth decay is the destruction of the tooth by the action of bacteria leading to holes (cavities) in the teeth. These bacteria need certain foods to survive in the mouth like sweets, cookies, sticky food etc. They convert this food into acids that degrades the layers of the teeth causing tooth decay.

Symptoms of tooth decay in children:

Colour and cavity:  Tooth decay begins with white spots on the teeth which becomes light brown cavity and the cavity soon becomes deeper and darker brown in colour.

Tooth sensitivity and toothache: In the initial stage of decay, there may be no discomfort but with progression, the tooth become sensitive to changes in temperature of food like cold food causing pain and hot food relieving it and also when food gets lodged in the teeth. This eventually leads to complains of constant pain, lingering pain, and pain that awakens you from sleep. Slowly progressing decay causes the tooth to lose its vitality and become non vital (dead) and at this point the child may have no pain. No pain does not mean all is good. The infection from dead tooth may flare up after sometime even in absence of pain and lead to swelling and pus drainage from the gums and tissues around the teeth and even progress to swelling of the face on the side involved.

Swelling: Swelling of the face on the affected side often requires long term treatment with antibiotics or even a hospital stay. The swelling may compromise the airway at times needing emergency treatment.

Preventing tooth decay:

The three things that can prevent tooth decay in children are:

Good oral hygiene habits

The mouth cleaning ritual should begin even before the teeth erupt, the gum pads can be cleaned with clean wet gauze wrapped around the finger in a circular motion. Parents should start brushing their child’s teeth as soon as the first one erupts with a children’s brush twice a day. For children younger than three years old, use only a small amount of fluoridated toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice smeared on the brush. Once the child reaches three years, pea-sized amount of toothpaste is used. The child needs to be monitored by parents even when they start brushing on their own. Mouth rinsing habit after meals helps in removing food debris from the mouth.

Decay causing bacteria can be transferred from one mouth to another. Research shows that a mother with high level of decay causing bacteria has a child with more tooth decay. This transfer of bacteria can be prevented by not kissing on the child’s mouth, not tasting the child’s food using his/her spoon, avoid sharing utensils and cutlery. Parents are the first role models and your home the first school; whatever the parents do is enacted by the child so you must take good care of their own oral health to get optimal effect in the child.

Balanced diet

A well balanced diet is the key to good health and healthy teeth.

The market today is flooded with more food that harm rather than heal. The fast food culture is as bad for the teeth as it is for general well being. When we tag our kids along for grocery shopping, they assist us by picking their choicest candies, cookies, chocolates, carbonated drinks, chips, instant noodles, etc – all culprits in harming oral health.

A healthy well balanced diet leads to healthy body and teeth. Food filled with essential nutrients like calcium and vitamins help build strong teeth. Your diet must consist of fruits, green vegetables, nuts, milk, curd, fish, meat and whole grains. Cheese is a super food for children. It contains calcium and phosphates that put back lost minerals to the teeth. Cheese also increases the flow of saliva that helps cleanse the mouth.

Timing of food intake is important. Snacking in-between meals is harmful to health and maintaining proper oral healthIt increases your chance of developing cavities. If a child uses a bottle at bedtime, the milk can pool around the teeth and cause decay. The child should be given a little water after consuming milk to rinse it off from around the teeth.

Regular dental visits

The best person who can help create healthy smiles in your child is a Pediatric Dentist. A pediatric dentist is also known as pedodontist and specialises in children’s dental health from birth to adolescence as well as in children with special needs. They focus not only on physical development but also on psychological and emotional development of the child while planning preventive as well as therapeutic treatment.

Scheduling routine regular dental visits can:

Help prevent development of dental decay, recognise habits like thumb sucking as well as identify anticipated diseases of the mouth at an early age.

Get treatment before complications arise.

Build strong rapport between child and dentist with less chance of dental anxiety.

Develop a lifetime of good oral habits.

The first dental visit of a child should be within six months of eruption of the first tooth, and the child should have visited a dentist once by his first birthday even if she/he does not have any problem. After that follow up, for a child with low risk of decay, a visit should be scheduled every six months while those with higher risk must visit the dentist every three months.

Dr. Parajeeta Dikshit is an Associate Professor, Dept of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry (Pediatric Dentistry) at Kantipur Dental College Teaching Hospital and Research Center in Kathmandu and Consultant Pediatric Dentist at Smile Square Dental Care Center, Maharajgunj and Om Samaj Dental Hospital Chabahil, Kathmandu.