- Did you know that an infant’s gums also need to be cleaned from time to time? They say even a day-old child’s mouth smells if not cleaned.
How often do you assist your children to brush their teeth? If you have never considered this, you are not alone. Most of us never thought it was important. Since you are reading this now, you should start helping your childen with oral hygiene.
Did you know that an infant’s gums also need to be cleaned from time to time? They say even a day-old child’s mouth smells if not cleaned.
Dentists say that good oral care begins when children are babies. As your child grows, you are supposed to start helping them with teeth brushing as it not only helps protect your child’s teeth but also cultivates a child’s oral hygiene culture.
A resident of Tabata-Segerea, Irene Kipendi who is a mother of two says she did not know that young children should have their teeth brushed. Irene says when her children were young, she never cleaned their mouths let alone brush their teeth. She never thought it was necessary.
It was during a visit to the dentists one day when her six-year-old had a tooth problem that she learnt she had to help her children with teeth brushing.
“The doctor’s first question after he examined my child was how often I helped her brush her teeth. He advised me to always help her do it the right way,” says Irene.
Importance of oral hygiene
A mother of five, Aimtonga Ndemasa, who lives in Mbezi Louis says a majority of mothers have no idea how important oral hygiene is in children.
“They don’t know that you have to help your child until she reaches the age of six,” Aimtonga shares.
She thinks dentists should continue educating the public, especially mothers on the subject.
“I know about teeth brushing for children because I am a nurse, but besides this, I used to help them until they turned three. After that I would let them brush their teeth on their owm, which I now know was wrong,” she says.
Professor Febronia Kahabuka, a paediatric dentist from Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS)’s School of Dentistry, says children’s teeth should be brushed by parents or guardians up to the age of six.
The professor says an infant’s gums should be gently cleaned using a clean soft cloth at least three times a week. This helps remove milk residue from the mouth so that the baby feels good but also protects it from bad smell.
The dental expert says executing mouth hygiene for an infant is important because it helps the mother develop a routine hygiene practice and is likely to help maintain the practice for the child in future.
When the baby cuts his first tooth, which normally occurs from six to eight months, the parents or guardians should continue to clean it with a clean cloth, the professor advises. She says the use of a toothbrush should start when several teeth have appeared in the mouth. As soon as the first molar appears, it is advisble to start regular tooth brushing using a soft toothbrush.
Parents have a role to play
According to the dentist, parents or guardians should not let children below six years brush teeth on their own. Normally children under the age of six are unable to grasp the toothbrush and properly clean their teeth.
“That’s why we recommend that parents or guardians should perform the brushing,” says Prof Kahabuka.
Allowing children under six years to brush teeth on their own is accompanied with a risk of leaving behind dental plaque and food residues that can lead to oral diseases.
Children aged between seven and nine years can brush their teeth but they too should do so under the supervision of parents or caregivers. In this age group children have acquired self-awareness and are able to follow instructions on tooth brushing, Prof Kahabuka says.
Although statistics show that nearly all children brush their teeth at least once per day, about 80 percent of them do not brush in accordance to professional recommendations namely; frequency of brushing and parental supervision.
Improper brushing may lead to gum diseases, tooth decay or bad smell according to the oral health expert.
Tooth decay is caused by several factors such as frequent intake of sugary foods and drinks, poor oral hygiene and insufficient use of fluoride.
In the previous five years, about 90 per cent of the children attending the MUHAS paediatric dental clinic had complaints related to tooth decay but the problem has since gone down.
Currently the number of children attending the clinic are those with malaligned teeth problems but again, there are a number of specialists dealing with that. Doctors at the clinic are confident that in coming years, this also will no longer be a problem.
“It is important for parents to recognise their role in taking care of their children’s oral and dental health. They should do away with beliefs that milk teeth are not important because they will shed anyway. This is a fantasy concept as tooth decay or any other oral health problem knows no age. Anyone who does not brush their teeth properly will suffer the consequences,” notes the dentist.
Amount of toothpaste to use
With children up to nine years old, parents are advised to use a small amount of fluoride toothpaste in form of a pea size.
This is because young children are unable to spit out the toothpaste or some of them may swallow the paste that is why it is important to consider the size. Habitual swallowing of fluoride toothpaste may cause dental fluorosis, which is a defect of tooth enamel caused by too much fluoride intake during the first eight years of life.
Although fluorosis can be cosmetically treated, the damage to the enamel is permanent.
The toothbrush should have a small head with a big handle; the small head size helps to access the hard to reach baby’s molar teeth in the back of your toddler’s mouth thus clean the teeth properly.
The big handle facilitates grasping of a toothbrush by a child whose dexterity is not well developed. Tooth brushing should be done twice a day; in the morning and at night before retiring to bed.
Oral hygiene culture
In order to ensure that children are educated about the importance of brushing their teeth, MUHAS, through the school of dentistry regularly visits primary schools in Dar es Salaam to educate children on the importance of oral health, how to take care of their teeth and teach them how to properly brush their teeth.
The dental school, through training activities, conducts various researches with the ultimate goal of finding solutions and making recommendations to the government on how to address oral health related problems in children.
Preliminary findings of a research conducted among preschool children in Tandale revealed that 70 per cent of the children surveyed had one or more decayed teeth.
Another study conducted at Magomeni Primary School shows that most children are not supervised during teeth brushing and the result is tooth decay and bad smell.
The school of dentistry will continue to educate expectant and nursing mothers through brochures and mass media to ensure children are safe in respect of oral and dental health.