Published On: Thu, Apr 25th, 2013

Help Your Child Avoid These Common Oral Health Problems

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When it comes to raising children, parents seemingly must navigate one illness after another to ensure the their child remains healthy during their development. While coughs, colds, and fevers all manifest with some pretty noticeable symptoms, a child’s oral health can experience a variety of problems that don’t appear obvious at first.

Thumb sucking, tooth decay, tongue thrusting, and early tooth loss can all cause serious problems to a child’s baby teeth and impact the development of permanent teeth as he or she grows older. To help your child enjoy the best possible oral health, parents need to deal with the following oral issues before they permanently damage a child’s teeth and gums.

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Also referred to as dental carries, baby bottle tooth decay is a common condition suffered by children whose baby teeth receive frequent exposure to sugars from drinks such as fruit juice, formula, breast milk, sugar water, or any other type of sweetened beverage.

Whenever a person consumes sugar, naturally occurring bacteria that grows in the mouth creates substances that damages the health of tooth enamel. Normally, saliva helps to wash these substances away after a meal to protect the health of tooth enamel, however, when a child falls a sleep with unswallowed juice or formula in his mouth, bacteria continues causing damage, which eventually leads to tooth decay.

When left untreated, tooth decay can cause pain and making chewing difficult for a child. This can lead a child to experience problems eating and potentially lead to long-term chewing problems. Baby teeth also serve as space savers for a child’s adult teeth. If baby teeth are lost at too young an age, they can no longer act as guide for the development of permanent teeth. Without baby teeth to guide adult teeth into position, crooked or crowded teeth may form. Finally, extremely decayed baby teeth could cause the development of an abscess, an infection that may spread to other parts of the body.

To help prevent tooth decay, parents should never lay their child down to sleep with a bottle that contains anything but plain water. If your baby acts fussy without a bottle at naptime, try replacing the bottle with a clean pacifier instead.

Parents should also make sure to wipe their child’s gums clean with a soft cloth following every meal. Once a child develops her first tooth, parents should start to brush their child’s teeth at least twice a day. Parents should avoid using toothpaste when brushing their child’s teeth until she is old enough to not swallow during brushing.

Thumb Sucking

At a young age, thumb sucking is a normal and healthy part of an infant’s development. Sucking on objects, whether toys, pacifiers, fingers, or a thumb, provides a child the sense of emotional comfort and security. However, when thumb sucking continues past the age of five, roughly the same age a child’s permanent teeth start to develop, oral health problems can occur.

Depending on the duration, intensity, and frequency of the sucking, a child can push his teeth out of alignment, resulting in them protruding out and creating an overbite. A child who habitually thumb sucks may also develop problems correctly pronouncing words, and may have the upper and lower jaw become misaligned during development. In extreme cases, the roof of a child’s mouth may become malformed due to the pressure applied by the thumb during development.

When assessing whether your child has a thumb sucking problem, parents should remember that the habit is perfectly healthy until a child begins to develop permanent teeth. Only if the habit persists past this point should parents consider taking action.

When trying to curb a child’s thumb sucking, parents need to resist scolding or disciplining their child for occasionally relapsing into the habit. Thumb sucking is rooted in a child’s need to feel secure. Parents scolding a child for thumb sucking are more likely to increase their child’s need to indulge in the habit rather than break from it entirely.

Instead of scolding, parents need to try using positive reinforcement and rewards to get their child to break the habit. The younger the child, the more frequently rewards will be needed. For kids that want to stop sucking, parents should apply a band-aid to their thumb as a reminder to stop. Parents can also seek advice from their dentist about successful strategies to help their child stop thumb sucking.

Tongue Thrusting

A habit similar to thumb sucking, tongue thrusting causes a child to seal the mouth when swallowing by thrusting the top of the tongue against the lips. As with thumb sucking, tongue thrusting applies pressure against a child’s front teeth, pushing them out of alignment and causing them to protrude, which can result in the development of an overbite and a speech impediment. If you notice your child developing the symptoms of tongue thrusting, contact your dentist to discuss possible treatment solutions.

A freelance writer, Timothy Lemke learned of common oral problems for kids from Dr. Timothy Harbolt, a Salem, OR dentist.

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