IMAGINE if you were left with NO CHOICE but to put your child under general anaesthesia to have rotten teeth pulled out. It’s not that hard to imagine because, for some of you, this is already a reality…
Baby teeth are very small, and the distance between the outer enamel and the nerve inside them is teeny-tiny. So when baby teeth suffer from tooth decay, the germs can reach the nerve inside the tooth very quickly, resulting in an infection and pain. At that point, it is most likely that the tooth will need to be removed.
When you have a small child who cannot co-operate in the dental chair, or understand what is going on or why they’re in pain, the only way they can be treated is to be put under general anaesthesia in a hospital setting. This can be a child as young as 2 years old, up to teenagers in some cases.
Hospitalisation and general anaesthetic comes with risk and is a traumatic experience for both the child and parents. Put aside extractions, if a child, regardless of age cannot stay calm in a dental chair, simple and less invasive treatments such as fillings will also have to be done under general anaesthesia. Again, this means more risk for complications, more stress and a lot more cost to fix a disease that in most cases, is 100% preventable.
What is Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is the process of minerals being removed from a tooth at a faster rate than they can be replaced. When plaque, (that sticky film of bacteria coating your teeth) feeds on sugar, whether it be from processed foods or natural sources, it produces acid which then destroys the enamel. This results in a cavity or a hole, as we all know it.
When a child (or adult) is suffering from tooth decay, they may not even know it. That’s because tooth decay doesn’t always cause pain. And by the time a child has a toothache from tooth decay, it is likely to result in removal of the tooth.
Children Are More Vulnerable
When it comes to tooth decay, children are at a higher risk of suffering from this disease. And it shows.
Nearly half (42%) of children aged between 5-10 years old in Australia have suffered from tooth decay in their baby teeth and 1 in 4 kids that age still have untreated tooth decay.
Read more about the state of oral health in Australia here.
So what are the 3 Surprising Reasons Kids Get Tooth Decay?
Now that we’ve set the scene, here are the 3 Surprising Reasons Kids Get Tooth Decay.
1. Parents pass tooth decay-causing germs to their kids
The germs in your mouth are passed down to your children and decay-causing bacteria can begin growing in your kid’s mouth even before they have any teeth! That means those germs are there, ready and waiting for the teeth to come through!
2. Kids toothpastes do not prevent tooth decay
Kids toothpastes are formulated with lower doses of fluoride compared with adult toothpastes and for good reason. Toddlers and the like sometimes like to swallow toothpaste and that’s where the the problem lies.
Swallowing too much fluoride while the teeth are forming can result in fluorosis which can be white or brown mottled looking spots on teeth. So kids toothpastes were formulated with lower doses of fluoride, but over time studies have shown that the dose of fluoride is too low to effectively prevent tooth decay.
3. There are hidden sugars everywhere
To prevent tooth decay it’s not just a matter of cleaning kids teeth. Their diet is super important – but you already know that part.
What you might be unaware of is the true amount of added sugar in some of the common snacks that we buy. Things like yoghurt, fruit and nut bars, dried fruits and even breads contain way more sugar than you may have thought.
And it’s these sugars that the germs in your mouth love – they turn the sugar into acid and the acid dissolves the teeth. That’s how tooth decay works.
So you might be doing a great job of brushing your kids teeth, only to find that they are suffering tooth decay anyway.
What Can I Do as A Parent?
While you can’t get rid of all the bacteria that cause tooth decay in your children’s mouth, it is possible to keep them under control and help to repair everyday damage to teeth by following these simple tips.
Good Feeding Habits
After the first 6 months of life, try to avoid putting your baby to bed with a bottle as this can cause extreme tooth decay. When milk pools in the mouth, the lactose in the milk feeds the bacteria that cause decay, all while your baby sleeps. Saliva flow is low during sleep, which means there is less protection against decay.
If you do have to feed your baby before bed or during the night, once your baby has finished feeding, immediately remove the bottle from the baby.
Clean Your Child’s Teeth Regularly With Fluoridated Toothpaste
Start to clean your baby’s teeth as soon as the first tooth comes through. You can use a wet cloth or a small, soft children’s toothbrush with water.
When they’re about 18 months old, you can start using a pea-sized amount of children’s low-fluoride toothpaste on a small, soft toothbrush.
Once they’re able to completely spit out the toothpaste, you can upgrade to an adult strength fluoride toothpaste.
Remember to brush their teeth and along the gum line twice a day; in the morning and at night before bed. I recommend that you help them brush their teeth until they can do it well by themselves (usually about eight years of age).
It’s not just about how much sugar we eat, but how often. If your child is constantly snacking throughout the day, regardless of whether it’s fruits or biscuits, the bacteria in the mouth are constantly fed with sugar. This means more opportunities for them to produce acid which means higher risk of tooth decay.
Make Sure Your Dental Health Is Tip-Top
The risk of passing tooth decay-causing bacteria to babies is greater if the caregiver has tooth decay that is not treated, so it is important that parents get their own oral health looked after.
Regular Check Ups
This goes for you and your kids! Make sure that your dental health is good, and set a good example for your kids by attending regularly and help to show them that going to the dentist is a good thing.
Kids are at high risk of developing tooth decay and because of the risk that treatment may be required for children who are unable to cooperate, bringing them regularly to the dentist will help to catch problems early, reducing the amount of treatment and the cost.
So, begin good feeding habits early, limit snacking, brush with fluoridated toothpaste, ensure your dental health is in good condition and regularly visit the dentist. That’s a lot of instructions, but you are up to the challenge!
Dr. Grant McGrath BDSc
Jasmine Ooi BPharm