Ask the Dentist: Caring for Kids’ Teeth
Have a question about dental care for children? Dr. Jasmine Boey, an established dentist and young mother of three, has the answers!
With national media recently reporting that 50% of children under the age of six in Singapore suffer from tooth decay, we know many parents are worried. So, we’ve invited Dr. Jasmine Boey, our favourite go-to person for paediatric dentistry, to answer all your frequently asked questions.
1. My baby hasn’t started teething yet so there’s no need (no teeth) to brush… right?
Not quite! Cleaning should start even before the first tooth appears! To prevent decay caused by nursing, try wiping your baby’s gums after each feed and before bedtime. Use a soft, wet washcloth, a damp piece of gauze or a cleaning device that fits over your index finger and gently run it over your baby’s gums to rub off excess food and milk curds.
2. My baby’s first tooth appeared! How should I clean it?
Once your child’s first tooth appears, it’s time to start brushing — morning and night, just like everyone else. Arm yourself with an infant toothbrush and some patience! You should use toothpaste but no more than the size of a single grain of rice, until your child is able to spit (usually around the age of three).
3. Do cavities in milk teeth matter? They’re not permanent teeth, anyway.
Healthy primary teeth in children are essential in helping them chew well, speak clearly and look good. Primary teeth also hold the spaces for permanent teeth to emerge in good positions so don’t underestimate them! Very often, your child’s general health can be affected if decayed primary teeth are not treated early. It’s really important to take good care of your children’s teeth right from the beginning. Daily cleaning and regular dentist visits are a good way to prevent cavities and get your children started on great dental habits from young.
4. When should I start taking my kids to the dentist?
I strongly encourage all parents to bring their babies for their first dental visit at six months old or after the first tooth makes an appearance. On the first visit, your dentist will conduct a thorough check-up to assess your child’s caries risk (one of the most common diseases in the world, which leads to tooth decay). From this point, the dentist is your partner in your child’s oral health journey, helping to monitor teething and identify any undesirable oral habits such as thumb-sucking.
5. So, thumb-sucking is not a good habit? How about sucking on a pacifier?
Let me start by saying that the first year is an exciting time of exploration for your baby. It’s normal for infants to explore their environment by putting things into their mouth — this includes sucking on their thumbs or a pacifier. But you don’t have to worry too much. These habits do not have any permanent detrimental effects if they are stopped before your child’s permanent teeth emerge.
6. How do I make the first dentist visit less intimidating for my kids?
Dentist visits shouldn’t incite fear in your child (or anyone, for that matter). Like all things in life, it’s all about starting out right. A fun and pleasant first visit is essential, so my advice is to look for a dentist who has a special interest in caring for young children. Personally, I find it useful to set aside ample time to acclimatise my little patients to procedures such as examination using a mouth mirror and tooth cleaning using a tell-show-do technique. I also love to encourage older children to sit in during their parents’ dental cleaning visits so that they familiarise themselves with dental tools and procedures. Singaporeans are fortunate to have access to public libraries with a good stash of children’s books on dental care and dental visits. My husband and I find these books a fun and easy way to prime our children to look forward to their next dentist appointment.
7. My kids already fear going to the dentist! What can I do?
In addition to talking to them and exposing them to good books, you can also rope in your dentist to help. In the world of dentistry, we now have laser technology for less invasive and less painful diagnosis and treatment. Studies have shown that children are generally more cooperative during restorative, pulpal and surgical treatments using laser, which significantly promotes the quality of care and enhances the treatment process. Laser technology can be used to detect and treat dental caries in children, perform root canal treatment in primary teeth and treat gum disease in a more painless way and without causing allergic reactions or bacterial resistance. Try speaking to your dentist about laser-assisted dental procedures for your children — it may help!
8. What should I do if my child has a toothache?
The most common cause of toothache in children is tooth decay. You should first examine the tooth (or teeth) for any obvious brown spots or cavities. If there are food particles stuck in the cavity, gently remove them with light tooth brushing. You can also try to gently floss either side of the hurting tooth to relieve the uncomfortable pressure. And of course, make an appointment for your dentist to check and treat the condition.
9. My kids are really active and I’m worried that they’ll knock their teeth out while playing sports. What can I do?
Turn to your dentist for help! Your dentist can fabricate a custom-fitted soft mouthguard for your children to protect their teeth, gums and lips from sports-related injuries.
10. What should I do if my kid knocks out a permanent tooth?
Remain calm! Your child is probably frightened so start with plenty of assurance. Look for the tooth and pick it up by the crown (not the root). If it’s dirty, you’d want to run it under cold water but refrain from cleaning it with a toothbrush or gauze and avoid any form of disinfectant like alcohol — this could kill the layer of viable cells on the root. The next step is to store it safely. Place the tooth in a container with special storage media for avulsed teeth (if available), otherwise use milk, your child’s own saliva or saline. Then take your child (and the tooth) to a dental clinic or hospital for emergency treatment.
Special thanks to Dr. Jasmine Boey for contributing to this article! As a mother of three, Dr. Boey enjoys treating children as she finds it fulfilling to build rapport with her young patients and help them allay their dental fears. She gained experience from clinical postings to National Dental Centre and Health Promotion Board before joining the i.Dental family.