Basic dental care for children

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The teeth in a young child's mouth may not be permanent, but they require as much care as an adult's. Neglecting them can have lifelong consequences. Here's what to do.

Set an example

Parents should discuss the benefits of oral healthcare with their children. Educating them on the importance of brushing and flossing is more likely to lead to habits being ingrained. Set an example by brushing and flossing in front of them – together with warnings about cavities and other risk factors, this will reinforce the message.

Watch what they eat
The diet your children follow to some extent determines whether they will develop cavities. Too much emphasis on carbohydrates, starches and sugars is a problem, for obvious reasons. Foods like fruit and cheese help stimulate the production of saliva, allowing food particles and acid produced by bacteria in the mouth to be removed. Replace sweets with these foods; and give them water or milk rather than juice or soda.

Proper tools for the job
Choose toothpaste containing fluoride, and of which children enjoy the taste. They don’t need more than a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. You might want to remind toddlers that toothpaste is not food and that it has to be spat out.

Hard bristles can be damaging to a child’s teeth and gums, so choose a softer toothbrush. It should be able to reach the molars at the back of the mouth.

Toothbrushes usually have to be replaced every three or four months. If your child’s brush appears worn and frayed sooner, it may be that they’re applying too much pressure when brushing.

Repairing damaged teeth
Broken or damaged milk teeth may not be high on your priorities list as they're going to be naturally replaced anyway, but they're still important: they help with speech development, and determine the growth pattern of the permanent teeth.

Milk teeth can be restored with a filling or a crown. Fillings do not hinder milk teeth coming out when they're due.

Restoring permanent teeth in children is handled in the same manner as it would be with adults, the only difference being that crowns are fitted differently. Crowns in children can be made and fitted in one visit.

(Andre van Wyk)

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