Oral Health Problems in Children
Baby Bottle Syndrome
Baby bottle syndrome (also called early childhood caries, nursing caries, and nursing bottle syndrome) is the development of cavities in infants due to the over presence of a nursing bottle in the infant’s mouth. Frequent contact with sugars from liquid carbohydrates, such as fruit juices, milk, formula, fruit juice diluted with water, sugar water, or any other sweet drink, cause baby’s teeth to decay just like older children, teens and adults. Human breast milk can cause tooth decay as well.
Most often, the cavities resulting from baby bottle syndrome occur when an infant falls asleep with a baby bottle containing a fermentable carbohydrate (milk, juice, or soda) in his/her mouth. When the baby falls asleep, the liquid pools around the teeth; the bacteria that are present will form acid, which eventually leads to a cavity.
Nursing bottle cavities usually form on the upper front teeth, because the infant’s tongue tends to protect the lower front teeth. In some more serious cases, cavities can be found in back molars. If left untreated, decayed teeth can cause pain and make it difficult to chew and eat. You may notice your child having tooth sensitivity to hard, hot, or cold foods. Badly decayed baby teeth could lead to an abscess, with the possibility of infection spreading elsewhere.
Baby teeth are very important. They act as “space savers” for adult teeth. If baby teeth are damaged or destroyed, they cannot help guide permanent (adult) teeth into their proper position, possibly resulting in crowded or crooked permanent teeth. If your child loses a tooth prematurely, your dentist may recommend a space maintainer. A space maintainer is a plastic or metal device that holds open the space left by the missing tooth. Your dentist will remove the device once the permanent teeth begin to erupt.
To Prevent Baby Bottle Cavities:
1. Do not leave a bottle in your child’s mouth while sleeping, or replace sugary liquid or milk with water or substitute with a pacifier.
2. Begin brushing your child’s teeth as soon as they come into the mouth, or clean them by using a wet washcloth. Do not use more than a pea-sized amount of toothpaste
3. Begin regular dental examinations by the first birthday or earlier if a problem is noted.
Generally, it is normal and healthy for an infant to suck his or her thumb, fingers, pacifiers or toys. Sucking gives children a sense of emotional security and comfort. However, if thumb sucking continues beyond the age of 5, functional, skeletal and dental problems may occur. Children begin to have their permanent (adult) teeth come in at age 5 or 6. Depending on the frequency, intensity, and duration of the sucking, the teeth can be pushed out of alignment, causing them to protrude and create an overbite. The child’s upper and lower jaws can become misaligned (crossbite), and the roof of the mouth might become malformed, blocking the child’s nasal airway and causing he or she to become a mouth breather and/or tongue thruster. As the child gets older, mouth breathing can cause many problems, including snoring, obstructive sleep apnea, cavities, misaligned teeth and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
Tongue thrusting is the habit of sealing the mouth for swallowing by thrusting the tip of the tongue forward against the lips. Previous thumb sucking malformed the mouth, not allowing adequate room for the tongue. Tongue thrusting is the child’s only way of being able to swallow. Just like thumb sucking, tongue thrusting exerts pressure against the front teeth, pushing them out of alignment, causing them to protrude, creating an overbite, and possibly interfering with proper speech development.
Tips to help your child stop thumb sucking:
1. The child must decide to stop on their own. To help the child, parents can offer encouragement and positive reinforcement. Thumb sucking is a security mechanism, and negative reinforcement (scolding, nagging or punishment) is ineffective. Give child praise and rewards.
2. For children who want to stop, cover the finger or thumb with a band-aid as a reminder.
3. Take the finger out of their mouth once they fall asleep.
4. For older children, you can have your dentist place a dental appliance. These dental appliances are cemented to the upper teeth and sit on the roof of the mouth making the thumb sucking habit more difficult and therefore less pleasurable.
Early Tooth Loss
Premature loss of a child’s primary (baby) teeth typically occurs due to tooth decay, injury, or lack of jaw space. If teeth are lost before the permanent (adult) tooth tries to emerge into its space, there may not be enough room. The new tooth may emerge tilted or blocked out all together. Crooked or misaligned teeth can cause a range of problems from interfering with proper chewing to causing temporomandibular joint problems.
If your child loses a tooth prematurely, your dentist may recommend a space maintainer. A space maintainer is a plastic or metal device that holds open the space left by the missing tooth. Your dentist will remove the device once the permanent teeth begin to erupt.
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