While most parents of young children are acutely aware of the variety of health problems a child can develop, the one area often overlooked is what can go wrong with a child’s oral health.
Even though baby teeth are eventually replaced with a more permanent set, maintaining healthy teeth and gums remains a vital part of your child’s development. Children who experience problems early on with their oral health can develop a number of serious long-term health consequences that can range from a misaligned bite to a speech impediment.
To keep your child smiling his or her best, parents need to identify common oral health problems that often arise during childhood. Tooth decay, tongue thrusting, and persistent thumb sucking can all cause permanent damage to your child’s adult teeth, and may even lead to the development of an eating or speaking problem.
Dental carries or tooth decay has become a global epidemic, according to a recent report from the World Health Organization. In the U.S., tooth decay ranks as the most common chronic illness in children, and one out of every four kids suffers from untreated tooth decay.
Tooth decay begins to occur when plaque, a stick biofilm comprised of food particles and bacteria, begins to buildup in the mouth. Plaque uses the foods and drinks we eat to produce acids that erode away at enamel, which makes teeth more susceptible to decay. Failing to practice quality oral hygiene allows plaque to stick to teeth and gums, where it causes the most damage after eating.
In young children, plaque builds up along the gum line and on newly formed teeth. Following feedings, plaque then begins to attack the health of your child’s teeth unless you take the time to clean your child’s teeth and gums following every feeding. Parents can help to reduce the effects of plaque by wiping their child’s gums with a soft cloth and brushing their teeth using a child sized toothbrush following each meal.
In older children, parents need to continue to brush their teeth until they become old enough to handle the responsibility themselves. Children don’t possess the motor control or attention to detail needed to brush properly until the age of six or seven. Parents who turn over brushing responsibilities to their children at too young an age run the risk of their kids practicing poor oral care, which could result in the onset of tooth decay.
A habit that causes a child to seal the mouth when swallowing by thrusting the top of the tongue forward against the lips, tongue thrusting exerts excessive pressure against the front teeth, pushing them out of alignment. This troubling habit can cause a child’s teeth to protrude, which results in the development of an overbite and possible speech impediment.
If your child has developed a tongue thrusting habit, you may need to schedule an appointment with a speech pathologist to correct the issue. As a learned behavior, tongue thrusting can only be corrected by teaching a child a new swallowing pattern that doesn’t involve the use of the tongue as a seal. A speech pathologist can develop a plan that will help increase the strength of a child’s chewing muscles so they no longer feel the need to compensate when swallowing by thrusting.
A perfectly normal and healthy habit at a young age, thumb sucking can cause many of the same problems as tongue thrusting when the habit persists past the age of four.
As a baby, children have an innate need to suck they often satisfy through the use of a pacifier or by sucking on their hand or fingers. When older, sucking becomes a type of security blanket for children they often turn to whenever they feel scared or insecure.
Thumb sucking becomes a problem for children once their baby teeth become fully formed. If a child still hasn’t stopped sucking by the age of four, the pressure the habit applies to their front teeth can push them out of alignment, causing them to protrude and increasing the child’s risk of developing an overbite and speech impediment.
While most children will give the habit up on their own, you may need to consult with Portland Dentist Dr. Beck about the best way to curb thumb sucking in your child if it continues past the age of five.