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Dental Byte

Children and Oral Hygiene

Importance of Teaching Kids about Prevention of Dental Caries
By: Dr. Sajal Hajra

Dr. Sajal Hajra Dr Sajal Hajra, a dental surgeon by profession, is an enthusiastic and devoted dentist with a clinical experience in paedodontics. She has worked in clinical, academic and research sectors at the undergrad and postgrad level. She has worked in an NGO as a co-executive for the welfare of children.

Children and Oral Hygiene Learning the basic aspects of everyday life is an ongoing and gradual process, and it is something that children learn from their parents. Likewise getting trained to drink from a glass, or learning to clean one’s teeth is usually traced back to family influence. Hence, it can be said that parents shape their child's attitude towards oral health. Therefore, parents should make every attempt to teach their children, by way of example, as to how to maintain proper dental care and consequently, mould their child's dental health habits.

Communicating effectively with children is of great value. For anxious children, parent’s cooperation and knowledge helps to cope well with oral hygiene instructions. Children are not "little adults", thus parents need to emphasise one major goal at a time.

Parents must be aware of the fact that prevention of dental caries underpins all dental care provided to children. Children who are at high risk for developing decay include caries prone children (nursing bottle caries), handicapped children- both mentally or physically, and socially deprived children, that is children belonging to low socioeconomic groups.

Parents need to identify the factors that are responsible for existing oral health as well as those that might have an impact on future oral health. These factors include diet, oral hygiene, dummy or thumb sucking, use of baby bottle especially at bed time, frequency of brushing and type of toothpaste used.

Activities such as brushing charts, diet sheets, gold stars for brushing well, extra pocket money for curtailing thumb sucking and a bedtime story on the importance of brushing teeth are all useful tips to help parents maintain a child's enthusiasm for a particular dental project.
 
The mainstay of preventive measures is tied around four pillars, namely

1. Plaque control by regular tooth brushing,

2. Sensible dietary control,

3. Fluoride and fissure sealants and

4. Regular dental checkups with appropriate X-rays.
 
Regular tooth brushing with fluoride toothpastes is very useful to control plaque in children. Electrical toothbrushes or those having cartoon characters on them can be a good motivation for children. Finger brushes can be used for children under 4 yrs of age. Young children under 5 yrs need help with teeth brushing. Children do not have maual dexterity to brush their teeth effectively until they can tie their own shoe laces when they are about 7 yrs old. However, even after this, children should be supervised by their parents to establish a good routine and ensure good oral health.
 
Caries reduction is not brought about by tooth brushing only. Children cannot be completely stopped from eating sugary food, therefore parents must ensure that they eat sensibly and safely. Also baby bottles leads to nursing bottle caries. So the use of trainer cups, suckers or beakers and straws must be promoted.

Fluoride gels and mouthwashes are helpful in preventing dental decay, but they cannot be used in children under 6 yrs of age. Fluoride mouthwashes must be used by all orthodontic patients. Each individual needs a tailor-made fluoride treatment. However, fluoride is no “bullet magic” that will help one restrain from all dental problems.

Most effective prevention treatment these days is fissures sealants in baby teeth. It is a non-invasive procedure. Compromised and disabled people, or those with extensive caries must undergo fissure sealants. Sealants can protect your children's back teeth in a way that they may never need to get a filling. They are a protective plastic coating, which are applied to the chewing surfaces of teeth at risk of decay. The chewing surfaces of back teeth have small grooves or fissures that often extend right down into the tooth itself. However well the teeth are brushed, these fissures are very difficult to clean thoroughly. Bacteria and food particles stick to them and eventually cause decay. Fissure sealants completely seal off these grooves, preventing any food particles or bacteria from getting in. They do not affect the normal chewing function of teeth.

After the fissure is checked for decay, the process continues with simply cleaning the tooth surface, preparing it with a special solution, and then applying the coating. No injections or drilling are needed; the entire process is pain free. The first permanent back molars are usually sealed between six and seven years of age. If required the rest of the molars are sealed as soon as they appear, which can be any time between eleven and fourteen years of age. The patient must get the fissure sealants reviewed at regular intervals.

For better results, all these preventive measures need to be coordinated and supervised by the dental team along with effective motivation from the parents.