Preventive dentistry is the foundation of modern dentistry. Most dental diseases have no symptoms till advanced stages of disease. As dentists we often tell our adult patients to visit a dentist every 6 months for an oral check to detect diseases early and to prevent these diseases from progressing to advanced oral diseases. Detecting dental diseases in children and treating them is one of the best forms of preventive dentistry.
A child’s first adult tooth usually erupts at the age of about 6 years old. Once the adult tooth has erupted the tooth is meant to function throughout the entire life of the child through adulthood! That tooth needs to be healthy in the mouth for the next 60-70 years.
Some children lose their adult tooth at a very early age and this can become a stressful situation for parents when thinking about replacement options.
Options for tooth replacements include dentures, bridges and dental implants. Some of these procedures can only be carried out when the child is older. Although these replacement options are readily available, every effort should be made to maintain and protect one’s own natural tooth.
Apart from genetics, lifestyle and habits also have a big role to play in the health of children’s teeth. The extended use of pacifiers, the age at which a child changes from using a children’s toothpaste to an adult toothpaste, the age a child switches from drinking from a milk bottle to a cup, timing of snacks during the day, falling asleep while drinking milk from a bottle, medications the child is taking and thumb sucking are some of the many lifestyle factors that can significantly affect the dental health of a child which can lead to dental problems in adulthood. Breathing through the mouth while sleeping instead of using the nose can lead to poor developments of the jaws. Allergies, enlarged tonsils and adenoids are common causes of mouth breathing. Some adults go through extensive braces treatment and even consider jaw surgeries later in life to correct a cosmetic or functional problem that can arise from poorly developed jaws contributed by mouth breathing.
Dental treatment can be an unnerving experience for both adults and children. The bright lights from the dental chair, strange sounds from the dental equipment and water being squirted into the mouth can all seem very daunting at first. But this can change to a very comfortable experience when a child knows what to expect during a dental treatment.
Children need to be introduced to various dental experiences gradually for them to overcome this fear. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends the first dental visit to be before a child’s first birthday. Sometimes a child’s first dental visit occurs when he/she is having a toothache. Although the dental treatment can still be managed the experience for the child may not be ideal. A nervous and anxious child may sometimes need general anaesthesia or sedation to proceed with dental treatment which may otherwise be completed under local anaesthesia in a co-operative child.
There are many benefits in bringing a child early for a dental consultation. A child’s baby teeth are needed for proper speech and social development, nutrition and act as a guide for the adult teeth to develop. A negative dental experience during childhood can lead to dental phobias to develop in adulthood.
Bringing a child early for a dental check up will help in preventing many dental problems and also create positive dental experiences for life.
By Dr Nijam Latiff