Oral and dental issues in children might seem innocent, but they are certainly not. Poor oral health early on can leave a lasting impact, which may be more and more difficult to rectify as time goes on. While some dental issues resolve on their own as the child grows, some require prompt professional attention. Parents play a key role in this phase and can help avoid unwanted complications. Read on to uncover the effects of common dental issues in children and how your timely actions can save the day.
What happens when you neglect your child's dental issues
Children with oral issues suffer from varying degrees of pain and discomfort, but it's more than just that. Ignoring dental problems in kids can have permanent repercussions. Here is how.
Effects on oral health
Jaw growth issues can contribute to speech problems. If misaligned teeth or bite problems are not addressed early on, it might lead to extensive orthodontic treatments later in life. Moreover, some birth defects, like clefts (split lips and palate), if not treated timely, can be difficult to repair later. Children may not be able to perform their best at school and in academics. Moreover, delay in seeking therapy often leads to more severe complications with a drastic increase in treatment costs.
Effects on overall health
Children with decayed or damaged teeth find it difficult to eat, chew, and digest. This can be reflected in chronic gut issues, a cranky child, or, in severe cases, a malnourished child. Dental issues impact a child’s daily life, sleep, health, academics, and overall well-being. It can limit their cognitive intelligence and affect their learning curve, too.
Effects on mental health
The effect of teeth issues in children extends beyond the mouth. Crooked and cavitated teeth often affect their self-esteem, potentially leading to emotional distress. Children with bad teeth often feel shy and left out. They can face bullying from peers, leaving lasting psychological impacts.
If diagnosed and intervened timely, dental issues in children can be managed and converted to a healthy smile and, eventually, a healthy adult.
10 common dental issues in children
Dental issues in children can start shortly after birth and continue through the years. Parents need to be aware of the common issues and their symptoms. Here is a list:
- Problems with tooth eruption. Within the first year after birth, milk teeth start to line up. Teeth have a normal timeline to erupt and fall. When milk teeth come out late or stay in the mouth long after the permanent teeth start erupting, it can cause problems. Your child's mouth can get crowded with two sets of teeth. These issues, if not treated timely, can lead to an improper bite, malocclusions, and impacted permanent teeth.
- Oral habits. Thumb sucking, tongue thrusting (pushing the tongue against the teeth), and lip sucking are common in children. It's fine till an appropriate age, but beyond that, it can be damaging to jaw growth and teeth alignments.
- Teething woes. Teething — when teeth start to erupt through the gums — can be a messy and cranky phase. It can make your baby drool and want to chew on things.
- Cavities. Cavities are frequently encountered oral problems in the pediatric clinic. Toothache is one of the most prominent signs of rotting teeth. Cavities in children can eat away the whole teeth and lead to severe pain and infections. Infections spread easily in children and, without prompt intervention, can cause life-threatening swelling and bacteremia (spread of bacteria in the blood).
- Teeth grinding. It can develop at any age and stem from varying factors, like anger issues, a reflex night habit, or stress. With time, this can turn into a daily habit and wear down teeth surfaces. Teeth become sensitive as the nerves get exposed, causing issues with hot and cold foods.
- Bad bite. Bites are influenced by jaw growth, teeth eruption, and alignment. Genetics or external factors, such as jaw trauma in early years, can contribute to bad bites. Primary teeth play a crucial role in jaw development, maintaining their position until permanent teeth emerge. Without them, jaw growth may be affected.
- Accidents. Children fall prey to accidents often. A damaged tooth, whether knocked out completely or broken, needs immediate professional support. Any delay can have long-term implications.
- Halitosis. Also known as bad breath, it can affect children often. Factors, such as inadequate oral care, crooked teeth, or even health conditions like gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), can cause halitosis. Regular dental check-ups are crucial in pinpointing and addressing the root cause of this concern.
- Teeth erosion. Children can indulge in frequent acidic drinks and sodas. The acids erode the outer surface of the enamel. With time, this leads to weak enamel, tooth sensitivity, and a higher risk of cavities.
- Gum infections. Sometimes, kids can get gingivitis. It refers to gum inflammation and associated infections. It's important to catch it early with good brushing and flossing, as it might turn into a more serious gum issue.
Taking care of your child's dental problems: oral health recommendations
Age-appropriate oral health recommendations for children are important because they lay the groundwork for a lifetime of excellent dental practices. Young teeth are growing and developing, and good care can help avoid problems now and in the future.
For babies aged 0–1
Your baby's teeth are starting to form, and it's essential to care for them from 0 to 1. Here's how:
- Gently wipe gums morning and night with a soft cloth after the first meal and before bedtime to clear away bacteria and sugars.
- When teeth come in, brush twice daily using a small, soft toothbrush and just water.
- Be vigilant. If your baby has swelling or pain in the mouth — consult your dentist.
- Meet the dentist by your baby's first birthday.
- Ask your dentist or doctor about applying fluoride varnish on your child’s teeth.
For children above 1
After the first year, implement these practices to support your child in developing healthy dental hygiene:
- Ensure they brush their teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste.
- Assist in brushing until they've mastered the skill. Once they can do it on their own, supervise their brushing.
- Use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and make sure they spit it out.
- Consider dental sealants — ask your pediatric dentist about their added protection.
- Visit your dentist every 6 months. Make it a routine and stick to it.
- Incorporate nutritious diets according to your child’s age.
First dental visit: dos and don'ts for parents
The American Dental Association recommends a child's first dental visit by their 1st birthday. First visits can be challenging — parents should be ready to make it stress-free and easy for their child. Here are 4 dos and don'ts to help your child cope better:
When your little one hits around 6 or 7, their baby teeth fall off, making room for the permanent ones. Even though these milk teeth will eventually fall off, it's important to treat them with care. Be a super parent — give a healthy mouth to your child with timely diagnosis and regular dental checks.
How does poor dental care affect children?
Neglecting a child's dental care can bring about cavities, pain, and eating troubles. Untreated problems may affect their speech development, causing discomfort and potential self-esteem issues if visible dental problems arise. It can even lead to missed school days.
At what age does tooth decay start?
Tooth decay can begin as early as a child's first tooth emerges, typically around six months old. Initiating oral care early, including wiping gums before teeth emerge and introducing brushing habits with the first tooth, is essential. Regular dental check-ups and a diet low in sugars play key roles in preventing early tooth decay.
Which toothpaste is best for children?
The ideal toothpaste for children should contain age-appropriate fluoride levels, typically around 1,000 ppm. It's advisable to consult your child's dentist for personalized recommendations based on their specific oral health requirements.
Ignoring your child's dental issues can have lifelong consequences.
Oral health issues in children can affect their oral, mental, and overall health.
Parents should be aware of the common oral health problems faced by children and what to do if a situation arises.
Pediatric dentists are trained to manage your child's dental problems. It's best to consult one in case of a query.
- British Dental Journal. Influence of dental care on children's oral health and wellbeing.
- J Pediatr. Children's dental health, school performance, and psychosocial well-being.
- Paediatrics & Child Health. Oral health care for children – a call for action.