Oral Health Problems in Children
There are a number of problems that affect the oral health of children, including tooth decay, thumb sucking, tongue thrusting, lip sucking, and early tooth loss. Even though baby teeth are eventually replaced with permanent teeth, keeping baby teeth healthy is important to a child's overall health and well-being.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Baby bottle tooth decay (also called early childhood caries, nursing caries, and nursing bottle syndrome) happens when a baby's teeth are in frequent contact with sugars from drinks, such as fruit juices, milk, formula, fruit juice diluted with water, sugar water, or any other sweet drink. If breastfed infants fall asleep with unswallowed milk in their mouth, they are also at risk for tooth decay. Bacteria in the mouth feed on the sugars, causing tooth decay.
If left untreated, decayed teeth can cause pain and make it difficult to chew and eat. Also, baby teeth serve as "space savers" for adult teeth. If baby teeth are damaged or destroyed, they can't help guide permanent teeth into their proper position, possibly resulting in crowded or crooked permanent teeth. Badly decayed baby teeth could lead to an abscessed tooth, with the possibility of infection spreading elsewhere in the body.
How Do I Prevent Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?
Some tips to prevent baby bottle tooth decay include:
- During the day, to calm or comfort your baby, don't give a bottle filled with sugary drinks or milk; instead, give plain water or a pacifier.
- Never dip your baby's pacifier in sugar, honey, or any sugary liquid.
- Don't put your baby to bed with a bottle filled with sugary drinks (watered-down fruit juice or milk still increases the risk of decay). Give a small amount of plain water or use a pacifier instead. Too much water is harmful to a baby.
- If your baby is nursing at night, make sure you remove your breast from your baby's mouth when she falls asleep.
- Don't add sugar to your baby's food.
- Use a wet cloth or gauze to wipe your baby's teeth and gums after each feeding. This helps remove any bacteria-forming plaque and sugar that have built up on the teeth and gums.
- Ask your dentist about your baby's fluoride needs. If your drinking water is not fluoridated, fluoride supplements or fluoride treatments may be needed.
- Teach your baby to drink from a cup by his or her first birthday. Moving to a "sippy cup" lowers the teeth's exposure to sugars, but constant sipping from the cup can still result in decay unless it is filled with plain water.
It's normal and healthy for infants to suck their thumbs, fingers, pacifiers, or toys. Object sucking gives children a sense of emotional security and comfort. But if thumb sucking continues beyond the age of 5, when the permanent teeth begin to come in, dental problems can occur. Depending on the frequency, intensity, and duration of the sucking, the teeth can be pushed out of alignment, causing them to protrude and create an overbite. Your child may also have difficulty with the correct pronunciation of words. In addition, the upper and lower jaws can become misaligned and the roof of the mouth might become malformed.