Oral Health Resources | 25 August, 2019

Tooth Decay and Kids – Important Things to Know

Empowering children to look after their teeth at an early age means they’re more likely to care for them later in life. This is the advice of Dr Nina Vasan, paediatric dentist at Lumino Kidz-Teeth.

Nina has almost 30 years of experience in dentistry, having worked in both the public and private sectors. She completed specialist paediatric dentistry training in Australia and in 1999, she established New Zealand’s first private paediatric dental practice in Auckland.

At Kidz-Teeth, the team of paediatric dentists provide high quality dental care to infants, children, and adolescents, working together to empower their young patients to become confident in the dental environment and happy in their smiles.

If you’ve got a baby or a young child, you might be feeling a bit in the dark about how best to look after their oral health. The below information will hopefully give you a clearer picture. If you’ve got any more questions give us a call!

Why do I need to worry about caring for my child’s baby teeth? They’re going to fall out anyway!

Mother Nature did not take her time over millions of years carefully developing baby teeth for the sole benefit of the Tooth Fairy!  They are actually very important and are at risk of tooth decay soon after they appear in the mouth, usually from around four months of age.  Children need strong, healthy teeth in order to chew their food, speak clearly and have a good looking smile.

They also maintain correct spacing in the jaw for the adult teeth.  If a child loses a baby tooth prematurely, the teeth beside it may drift into the empty space.  So, when it’s time for their adult teeth to come through, particularly if it is a few years after the baby tooth or teeth have been removed, there might not be enough room, leading to crooked teeth and crowding.

Dr Alan Simpson, community paediatrician and clinical head of Kidz First Community Health in Auckland, says it is a common ill-conceived assumption that baby teeth don’t matter.  He further adds: “If a child has decayed baby teeth, the inherent poor oral hygiene habits are heard to re-learn, so they are much more likely to develop decay in their adult teeth.  Further, if baby teeth have been taken out or are damaged, the adult teeth not only come through misaligned, but can also affect self-esteem and cause speech problems”.

What causes teeth to decay?

Tooth decay is the result of bacteria that are normally present on our teeth interacting with sugars that we consume in our daily diet.  The bacteria use the sugars to produce acid and over a period of time, the acid destroys the tooth enamel (the hard surface of your tooth) resulting in tooth decay.

At first, tooth decay may not cause any obvious symptoms, but as it progresses, can result in toothache and sensitivity to hot, cold and sweet foods and drinks.  If the decay spreads further to the nerve, it can lead to infection, or worse, result in an abscess on the gum causing severe pain, swelling of the jaw, and fever.

In young children, tooth decay most often affects upper front baby teeth first, then later can appear on upper and lower back baby teeth.  Lower front baby teeth are rarely affected. 40% of children in New Zealand have tooth decay by the time they start kindergarten.

Dentists in New Zealand are sadly extracting five, 10 and not uncommonly, all 20 baby teeth in three and four-year-old children.  Pretty dramatic stuff and very traumatic for small children, yet so easily avoided with simple oral hygiene habits,” says Dr Alan Simpson.

What is Early Childhood Decay (baby bottle decay)?

Early childhood decay generally occurs when a child’s teeth are exposed to sugary liquids, such as milk, fruit juices, cordials and other sweetened liquids for continuous, extended periods of time.  This is especially common from putting a baby to bed with a bottle, allowing the baby to fall asleep with the bottle still in its’ mouth for hours on end.

Saliva, which helps to prevent tooth decay by digesting the sugars and washing the teeth, decreases when you’re asleep.  This means, when you put your baby to bed with a bottle, the liquid from the bottle is left coating their teeth.  For babies, once teeth have come through, if a bottle is needed for settling and during sleep, this should contain only boiled water.

Tooth decay is preventable

While fluoridated drinking water and fluoride-containing toothpaste have helped to improve the oral health of children, regular tooth brushing and a well-balanced diet are just as essential to prevent tooth decay.

Also, once a month, advise parents to lift their child’s lip to check for decay by looking for white or brown spots on the upper teeth near the gums.

Tips for maintaining optimal oral health for kids

  • Brush children’s teeth twice a day especially at night, using a soft small-headed toothbrush and just a smear of 6years + or adult toothpaste for under two year olds, and a ‘pea-sized’ amount for two to five year old’s. Please note: The Ministry of Health Guidelines in NZ now recommend using fluoridated 6years + toothpaste for all ages.
  • Parents should be shown how to floss their child’s teeth once two teeth are in contact. The easiest way for parents to floss, is to have the child lying down so their head is supported and tie the floss into a circle (so they don’t need to wrap it around their fingers) and gently floss up and down between the teeth.
  • Give children milk or water to drink.
  • If giving juice, ensure they try to drink this with a straw to avoid the juice touching the all the teeth.
  • Even diluted juice is acidic.
  • Carbonated water is also acidic and can cause tooth damage if consumed .
  • Drinking acidic sugary drinks is best at meal times when more saliva is naturally being formed.
  • Give children pieces of cheese or raw vegetables as snacks, instead of biscuits and sweets. Save sweetened foods for mealtimes and treats.  If children are given sweets, biscuits or sweetened foods, they are best to consume it all in one go rather than spread throughout the day – so they have one acid attack, rather than several.
  • Never dip a child’s dummy in honey, syrup or sugar.
  • Never allow a child to fall asleep with a bottle containing any liquid except water.
  • Avoid sharing cups, knives, forks and spoons with children to prevent transfer of decay causing bacteria.
  • The first dental visit should be at age 1, so the dentist can provide the right educational advice according to the stage of development and assess risk factors early – prevention is the key!

Kidz-Teeth is a Specialist Paediatric Dental practice is located on St Johns Road in Meadowbank, Auckland. Our specialist paediatric dentists provide all aspects of dental care, including preventative care and children’s oral health.

Whether you are looking for pain-free and gentle dental care, or require an affordable dentist in Auckland that offers flexible payment options, Lumino The Dentists Kidz-Teeth will make sure your child leaves smiling.