It is vital to inculcate good dental habits from young so that by the time a child has permanent teeth, he is ready to look after them, writes Nadia Badarudin
FOR some parents, getting their kids to take good care of their teeth and including tooth-brushing as part of their daily routine is easy.
For others, teaching their little ones to brush their teeth and ensuring they do it regularly can result in drama.
The fuss is similar to getting them to eat vegetables but this time it involves tug-of-war episodes involving tiny hands, cartoony toothbrushes and splatters of fruit-flavoured toothpaste.
While the experience can be challenging and frustrating, inculcating good dental habits early in children is very important because it can impact overall health during adulthood and ensure a lifetime of good dental health.
IMPORTANCE OF STARTING YOUNG
Bad breath, tooth decay, tooth erosion, mouth sores and gum disease are among common dental problems arising from poor dental care.
According to the Ministry of Health Malaysia’s 2015 National Oral Health Survey of Adults, the prevalence of periodontal disease or gum disease among adults is 94 per cent (which is equivalent to nine out of 10).
Although gum disease is more prevalent among adults compared to children, instilling dental care habits into children is still important. This is because recent studies have linked gum disease with poor heart health.
The risk of stroke, diabetes and premature birth in some pregnant women will also increase as gum disease progresses.
Health website WebMD reports there are studies showing the connection between the impact of oral health and other health conditions such as osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lung disease and obesity.
Malaysian Society of Periodontology president Dr Ahmad Sharifuddin Mohd Asari says the earlier parents expose their children to good dental habits the better, simply because milk teeth act as spot-holders for permanent teeth.
Healthy milk teeth mean healthy adult teeth. So, if the milk teeth development and gums are not properly taken care of from young, they will result in various issues in later years.
“For adult teeth to erupt, they need guidance and this guide is provided by the milk teeth,” says Dr Ahmad Sharifuddin.
“If the milk teeth are decayed because they are not well taken care of, and have to be pulled out earlier than they should be, this can disturb the overall development of adult teeth. For instance, teeth crowding is likely to occur because the adult teeth did not erupt as they should,” he says.
TEACH BY EXAMPLE
Such dental problems are preventable if children are introduced to tooth-brushing and flossing as well as going to the dentist from young.
The key is for the parents or carers to teach by example and create an environment which values the importance of cleaning teeth, says Dr Ahmad Sharifuddin.
“Actually, it’s easy to teach children to pick up good dental care because children naturally like to follow what their parents or elder siblings do.
“The only issue is that they don’t know how to brush or floss properly. So, parents have to do more at the early stage like showing the kids the right techniques,” he says.
Parents can start instilling good habits by making children familiar with tooth-brushing or the set-up at the dentist.
“After the first milk teeth have erupted, let your child hold a toothbrush and show what it is for.
“When you teach your child to brush his teeth, tell him not to swallow the toothpaste because excess fluoridated toothpaste can do more harm than good. And if possible, make tooth-brushing a family routine.”
As for flossing, he suggests parents to do it for their little ones because the wrong technique can injure gums.
“Make a few early visits to the dentist — as early as when your child is six months old — just to make him comfortable and familiar with the environment. And never use the scare factor (e.g the dentist will pull out your teeth if you don’t do certain chores) to get the kid to see the dentist.”
On bad dental habits, he says: “Prevent your child from sucking his thumb (as it can lead to proclined teeth), crunching ice cubes or using teeth as a tool to cut or open something (both can break teeth).
“And don’t bottle-feed your child with sugary drinks just before bedtime. That can create rampant caries.”
Distribution specialist Rosediana Nordin from Sungai Buloh, Selangor has been inculcating good dental habits in her children since they were seven months old.
She believes that the best way to do so is for parents to teach by example and make tooth-brushing a fun family activity.
“It may be just brushing teeth, but it’s tricky and requires a lot of effort especially with my youngest boys, Muhammad Aiman (now 13), Muhammad Alif (12) and Adam Muhammad (3).
“The key is making it a fun family routine. So every morning and evening, everyone in the house will brush teeth together, including my maid,” says the mother of nine.
When her child started teething, she would clean the teeth and gums using a soft cloth. She introduced the tooth-brushing routine when the child turned one.
“I used a tiny toddler’s toothbrush with super-soft bristles and flavoured fluoride-free tooth gel for kids. The toothbrush was cute and had a cartoon character that the children loved.
“With Adam, I placed him on a special chair facing a mirror. I taught him to brush his teeth and made funny faces while at it. I tried to make it as fun as possible and it worked.
“I had one toothbrush on standby — similar to the one he held in his hand. Why? Well, he liked to chomp on the apple-flavoured gel and didn’t let anyone to take away the brush in his hand.
“So, while he got carried away, I would quickly brush his teeth with the other toothbrush. And he didn’t mind it all,” she says.
Rosediana also takes her children to the dentist every six months. She ensures that the place is fun and child-friendly.
“I started bringing my children to see the dentist when they were 2 1/2 months old. During the first few visits, I just wanted them to be familiar with the environment and feel connected with the dentist.
“I didn’t start them early on sweet food and desserts. I allowed them to eat chocolate or ice-cream only after they have made the first visit to the dentist and started following the tooth-brushing routine diligently,” she adds.