Not so very long ago, we tended to pay little importance to decay in baby or milk teeth. Provided it didn’t bother the child, parents could often be heard to say: “the tooth will soon fall out, it’s not worth the bother to have it fixed”.
Nor would those same parents be overly concerned about brushing their teeth and they would give the children as many sweets and cakes as they wanted.
Fortunately times have changed, and today the population has greater health-related culture.
Definition and consequences of caries
Caries is an infection of the tooth.
In the early days, when it is still only a small infection, it only affects the tooth surface, i.e. the enamel, although the infection soon starts spreading deeper into the tooth, until coming to the softer dentine.
At first it causes no pain; however, the deeper it gets, the more pain will be felt when eating hot and cold food.
When it reaches the pulp, home to the artery and the nerve, the tooth or molar will start hurting spontaneously, often with a pulsating feeling. In this case, the child will require treatment with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication.
If they are not given medication, the infection may possibly spread to the roots and cause a gumboil, which requires a higher dose of medication and a longer period of treatment. This process can lead to problems with the child’s overall health.
Remember that a caries requires the same treatment as tonsillitis or bronchitis.
Don’t forget that the permanent teeth lie beneath the milk teeth, and that an untreated infection in the temporary teeth can affect them, sometimes causing malformations or colour changes and stains in the underlying permanent tooth.
Preventing tooth decay in children
Recommendations for tooth brushing
It is very important for children to brush their teeth three times a day, after every meal if possible.
If they eat at school, making it complicated for them to clean their teeth, it is advisable for them to brush them at home, after their afternoon snack. It is also important on weekends and holidays for them to brush them at lunchtime too.
When the child is very young, it is important that you do the brushing for them. Later they will gradually start to do it by themselves, the older they get. Children must see also their parents regularly brushing their teeth. It will be much easier to pass on the habit if they see you doing it at home.
- It is hugely important to try and prevent children from eating sweets between meals, particularly soft gums.
- Sweets mustn’t be used as a reward; it will only make them ask for more.
- They can however have sweet puddings at home as part of their dinner, provided that they brush their teeth afterwards.
- When eating away from home with children, it is preferable for them to eat more savoury than sweet food.
- Always remember that sweet drinks like soda produce caries if abused outside mealtimes.
- The toothpaste they use must also be specifically for children. These toothpastes tend to have less fluor than those intended for adults, and come in pleasant flavours (strawberry, banana, etc.) given that children don’t generally like the mint flavour of adult toothpaste, saying that it nips.
- Lastly, to prevent complications, you must take your child to the dentist’s once a year. The child will therefore get used to seeing the dentist for a check-up and advice on hygiene and how to brush their teeth, rather than associating them with anaesthesia injections or pain. This means that by the time they need a filling, they will already know us and will accept the situation more naturally.
Regular visits to the dentist will help to reinforce the hygiene habits taught to them by their parents from a very young age.