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The importance of caring your child’s ‘baby teeth’

Published:Monday | August 31, 2015 | 12:00 AMDr. Jillian Gooden
Dr Jillian Gooden

Summer is over and back to school is already here, ensuring that we provide our children with the best educational opportunities for that 'Bright' and 'successful' future that we all want for them. Unfortunately, we rarely acknowledge that teaching our children proper oral care and good dietary habits at an early age is also an investment that can yield lifelong benefits.

The foundation for healthy teeth is laid within the first few years of life. In fact, several studies show that poor dietary and oral hygiene practices, within the first two years of life, often results in tooth decay in children. The development of dental caries in a child's primary teeth (baby teeth) increases the risk of developing cavities in the permanent teeth.

Studies have also shown that untreated cavities at an early age has been linked to problems with speech, poor sleep, low self-esteem and poor performance in school.


Why are 'Baby Teeth' important?


Many parents have the misconception that it doesn't matter if a child develops a cavity in his/her primary dentition or loses a baby tooth because it will simply grow back.

A child's primary teeth are important in:

- Effectively chewing and digesting food.

- Learning to speak; a full set of teeth is essential in learning correct word pronunciation.

- Proper alignment and spacing of permanent teeth; baby teeth act as natural space maintainers for permanent teeth. Space for the permanent successor may be lost if a baby tooth is removed before time, creating problems with the alignment, or may even prevent the permanent tooth from erupting.


How do cavities form?


- Cavities form when bacteria, found in the mouth, break down food particles in saliva, creating a plaque, which will stick to teeth surfaces if not removed.

- Inside the dental plaque, there are bacteria present that actively convert sugars and carbohydrates from food into acid.

- As the tooth weakens, the bacteria invades the tooth structure, resulting in dental caries and cavity formation.


How to prevent cavities in your kid's teeth


1. Watch what your children eat and how often they eat it.

- Limit in-between meal snacking on sweet foods and beverages; this reduces the number of acid attacks on teeth, allowing them to repair themselves.

- Don't allow your child to eat or drink anything other than water after night-time tooth brushing; salivary flow is decreased during sleep, making teeth more susceptible to damage after an acid attack.

2. Ensure your child's teeth are brushed properly.

- Teeth should be brushed twice daily with fluoride toothpaste (for children two to six years, only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste should be used).

- Don't let young children brush their teeth by themselves. This is a common mistake that parents make. No matter how much they want to brush well, children under seven years old do not have the manual dexterity to clean their teeth properly. Parents should, therefore, supervise teeth brushing to ensure all teeth surfaces are clean.

3. Start flossing your child's teeth while the primary teeth are still present.

- You know it's time to start flossing your child's teeth when the teeth start to fit together closely, usually around three years of age. If you start early, flossing would have already been a part of their routine when the permanent teeth come in.

4. Start taking your child to the dentist routinely as soon as their first tooth erupts or by his/her first birthday.

- Regular dental visits from an early age will not only allow the dentist to monitor your child's oral health and dental development, but will also help your child feel comfortable during dental visits.

Parents play a very important role in helping their children develop healthy oral hygiene and dietary practices. Taking the time to encourage and enforce these habits from an early age will give your child a healthy start towards a lifetime of excellent oral health.

- Dr Jillian Gooden, DDS, practises at Dental Group Associates, 17 Ripon Road, Kingston 5. Email: or