Encouraging oral hygiene from a young age

By Buds & Babes

Most of us brush our teeth at least twice a day - in the morning after we wake up, and in the evening before we go to bed.

Some choose to brush more frequently, perhaps after a meal or sugary snacks. We have been taught from young that brushing our teeth is important to ensure we do not get caries. Of course, there are also aesthetic reasons such as pearly white smiles and ensuring we don’t have bad breath, thus improving one’s self-esteem. 

Oral health is more than healthy teeth

What one may not realise however, is that oral health is more than healthy teeth. Good oral health also means being free of oral cancer, oral-facial pain conditions, craniofacial complex tissue disorders among others. We often take our oral health for granted and assume it is just the teeth. Organs and tissues connected to the mouth also help us to convey our feelings and emotions to others whether it is through smiling, crying, kissing, in addition to basic functions such as swallowing, chewing and spitting. 

In the same way one would say that eyes are windows into one’s soul, mouth is a window to one’s body. Oral health is vital for overall general health. The mouth can tell the overall health condition of that person, as it helps the health practitioner to understand organs and systems in less accessible parts of the body. It serves as an early warning system.

The Academy of General Dentistry reported that 90% of systemic diseases (i.e. affecting more than one part of body) have oral manifestations like swollen gums, dry mouths and mouth ulcers. Gingival swelling, bleeding, ulceration and tooth loosening are signs of severe vitamin C deficiency, also known as scurvy. Frequent yeast infections in the mouth and periodontal disease are indicators of diabetes. Similar oral manifestations can be found for other illnesses like mouth caner, leukemia, heart disease and kidney disease. There are also proven associations between gum disease and health complications such as stroke and heart disease. If you have regular oral examinations, your dentist would be the first health care provider to diagnose the health problem at early stage allowing you to seek treatment early. 

Aside from being an indicator of health problems, poor oral health care can also lead to other problems. Mouth can be an entry point for infections; especially for those whose immunosuppressive systems are already compromised. Bacteria in the mouth that is normally harmless becomes a significant risk when the body’s normal defense mechanisms are down.

National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research reports that infections in the mouth can affect major organs. For example, heart and heart valves can become inflamed by bacterial endocarditis. It can also cause digestion problems starting with physical and chemical processes in mouth, leading to intestinal failure, irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive disorders.  

Good oral health care

Hopefully you are now convinced that oral health is not just about brushing one’s teeth. Of course, that is one of the important components. Dental professionals recommend brushing one’s teeth for at least two minutes twice a day. This routine can start as soon as the first tooth appears. Wet a clean soft cloth and gently wipe over the baby’s gums. This will help the baby get used to regular tooth brushing as they grow up. 

Diet is also very important, thus avoid sugary foods. Pay close attention to labels and content on food, especially processed food. Be alert to sugar content hidden behind marketing claims. “Bottle caries” is common in babies who regularly drink juice from a bottle or go to bed with their milk bottle. Juice should preferably be given to children only in cups. 

Regular dental visits are also important, as shown in the section above.  National Institute of Clinical Excellence recommends children visit the dentist at least once a year and adults to visit once every six to twelve months. Your dentist can help you detect diseases early enough or help you maintain good oral health so as to minimise other health problems.  Therefore, it is not advisable to wait until you have a toothache before you see a dentist. 

Parents are encouraged to introduce good oral hygiene to their children from a young age. Firstly, show a good example by regularly brushing own teeth then helping them to wipe their gums or brush their teeth. Make this more fun by singing ‘tooth-brushing’ songs or reading simple books on this subject.

Bring children to the dentist before problems set in. When there are problems, treatment is required which may cause fear in children leading to general fear of dentist as they grow up. Start with simple visits to help them understand the set up of the dental clinic and what a check up process would entail. As they familiarise themselves with these, it is more likely they would hop onto the dental chair comfortably next time and not be afraid of dentist.

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Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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