Fun and dentists? Not two words commonly heard together. But the National Dental Centre Singapore managed to link the two together for about 200 children and their parents at its first dental boot camp recently.
Through games and activities at the one-day camp, the children, aged three to 12, learnt about healthy dental habits.
For instance, in one game, children had to hook picture cards of food that are bad for their teeth out of a tub of water. Many of them did not realise that, besides candy, there are foods which seem harmless but are actually bad for the teeth. These include bread and white rice.
There are also pitfalls that parents may not know about, so an early dental visit – by the age of one or as soon as a child’s first tooth appears – can help to equip them with the necessary knowledge to prevent dental diseases, said Dr Bien Lai, an associate consultant at the paediatric dentistry unit in the department of restorative dentistry at the centre.
It would also allow paediatric dentists to arrest dental diseases before the conditions deteriorate.
Related: Is it safe to share toothbrushes?
Here are five common dental challenges parents face, and how to deal with them.
1. Child dislikes visits to the dentist
Take your child to a dentist before the signs and symptoms of tooth decay occur. Do not take him to a dentist only when there is pain and swelling as he may then associate the dentist with pain.
Keep in mind that a child under the age of three does not know how to be good dental patients and may not cooperate with the dentist.
Paediatric dentists are trained to assess the child’s behaviour or temperament and, if needed, guide the parents on what to do. Older children can have their anxiety lessened by being shown stories and videos of children going to the dentist.
Do not use the dentist as a threat to get your child to stop eating sugary snacks.
2. Ignorant of food that contributes to tooth decay
Most parents are not aware that any food that can be broken down into simple sugars can contribute to tooth decay. These include biscuits, cakes, bread, raisins, preserved fruit, chips, crackers and white rice.
Limit the consumption of sugary food or drinks to mealtimes, and not in between meals. This cuts down on how often the teeth come under attack by acids produced when sugar is digested.
Have no more than three snack times in between meals because the higher the frequency of sugar exposure on tooth surfaces, the higher the risk of tooth decay.
Choose savoury snacks over sugary treats. And cut back on sweet drinks as, even if diluted, still contain sugar.
Parents may not realise it, but milk contains a type of sugar called lactose. A child nursing a bottle of milk for a long time is in danger of dental caries. Brush the child’s teeth after his night feed to prevent sugars from staying on the tooth surfaces overnight.
3. Child resistant to brushing or flossing
Some toddlers are uncooperative, while others want to brush their own teeth, however unsuccessfully.
Also, when it comes to flossing, some parents may not have this habit themselves and, therefore, do not realise that a child should floss his teeth.
Introduce the routine of brushing one’s teeth to a child when his first teeth emerge. The earlier you establish this routine for the child, the easier it is for you down the road. Brush twice a day, for two minutes each time.
Do not wait till he is three or four years old as he may then be used to a routine that does not include brushing his teeth. It will be difficult to change his behaviour then, but it is not impossible. Be consistent and persistent in reinforcing the routine.
You can apply behavioural management techniques, for example, by rewarding him for good behaviour.
For a personalised recommendation, go for a dental consultation.
Related: Teach your child about good hygiene
4. Recognise early signs of tooth decay
Tooth decay does not happen overnight and can be reversed if it is diagnosed early, so do take your child to the dentist by age one and for follow-up visits.
Acid-producing bacteria on dental plaque deposited on teeth can cause demineralisation over time, resulting in white spot lesions. If neglected, these lesions will start to form cavities in the tooth structure.
By the time you notice a cavity or gum swelling, irreversible damage would have set in.
5. Caregivers neglecting care of milk teeth
Some people have the idea that since the milk teeth will all be replaced eventually, treatment of tooth decay in baby teeth can be deferred. This can result in the baby teeth being unsalvageable.
Early loss of the first set of teeth can temporarily disrupt function, aesthetics and speech until the second set erupts.
Early dental visits would allow dental professionals to educate parents or caregivers on the importance of caring for baby teeth. Such teeth help to guide the growth and development of the jaws and the permanent teeth.
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times.