The faces of babies and toddlers are pleasing to look at. Whether they are toothless or they already have teeth (which normally will not be complete), they will still look cute to our eyes as adults. Their smiles are preciously uplifting, reminding you that life is not all that bad and that there are still things to be happy and hopeful about. You never look into their dental cavities, just their precious smiles.
Sadly, because of the adorable nature of babies, teeth problems among infants are often ignored – to the detriment of their oral comfort and health. If you are a parent, such scenario can also be your problem; you certainly do not want your children to be suffering from toothaches, gum problems, and eating or chewing disorders. Besides, dental issues during a child’s development stages, if not addressed appropriately, can affect the later growth of permanent teeth.
Tooth decay and cavities are not the only ones to watch out for in caring for an infant’s dental health. In fact, these are the ones you want to avoid the most. In order to do so, you may have to vigilant on other dental problems that can lead to cavities and tooth decay.
Early or Delayed Teething
Milk teeth, deciduous teeth, or baby teeth is how we call the teeth that primarily come out of the gums of an infant. They will be outgrown later on (normally during puberty) and will be replaced by what we call “Permanent Teeth.”
Teething is the process when the baby is experiencing the budding and growth of his/her early teeth. Teething in itself is not a dental problem; it is a natural process of the baby’s development. However, it is a condition that can cause discomfort to the infant. Because a budding tooth is rupturing from the inside of the gums, it can cause itchiness and sometimes even pain.
How do you know that your baby is already undergoing teething and experiencing inconveniences because of it? How you wish your baby can just talk and tell you what is aching him/her, but unfortunately nature has it that the only way for them to communicate his/her discomfort is to cry. So aside from your baby crying, you will know when he/she is already teething if you notice the following signs:
- Swelling and/or redness of cheeks (redder than the usual, if his/her cheeks are already cutely red)
- Frequent biting or chewing of anything (or anyone) near them
- Increase in saliva quantity
- Loss of appetite
- Sleeping disruptions
- Sometimes, an increase in body temperature
If however there is fever and rashes on your child’s body (which could be a sign of allergy), you better consult with your paediatrician or paediatric dentist and have your baby checked up.
The first tooth normally buds on the baby’s gums during 6-8 months. By the age of 3-4, the entire milk teeth will have been completed. The delay or earliness of a child’s teething depends on hereditary factors. If by the time your baby reaches 12 months and not a small tooth appears on any area of his/her gums, you may need to check with your paediatric dentist about this case.
Discoloration of Teeth
The budding primary teeth will normally be yellowish. This may not yet be a cause for alarm because an infant’s yellow teeth may be due to the medication or supplemental vitamins and minerals the baby is taking. If the infant was placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) right after his/her birth due to high Bilirubin* levels, the baby having yellow or brownish teeth is highly to be likely. If you are not brushing your baby’s new teeth as much as they should be brushed, then plaque can develop over them causing the teeth to discolor.
Other causes for teeth discoloration that you may need to watch out for are the following:
- Enamel fluorosis – this is caused by the milk teeth’s over exposure to fluoride. If your baby’s infant formula has fluoride and you mix it with fluoridated liquid, then it may cause your child’s milk teeth to develop enamel fluorosis.
- Weak enamel – the enamel is the hard substance that covers your teeth.
- Gum or tooth damage – an injury or trauma to the baby’s tooth and gums can cause it to turn pinkish or reddish.
- Other illnesses of the body – infections on the baby’s other body parts, such as hepatitis, causes jaundice and can make his/her milk teeth turn yellow. Heart disease can also have this kind of effect.
As mentioned previously, the enamel is the covering of the tooth. When the enamel is thin and not sufficient in its amount, this condition is called Enamel Hypoplasia. Its causes can be traced to the mother contracting an infection during pregnancy, lack of Vitamin D, C, and A on both the pregnant mother and the child, and even hereditary factors. Exposure to toxic substances can also bring about this dental condition.
If your paediatric dentist finds that your child has Enamel Hypoplasia, the former may apply sealing or pasting (if there is a dent on the tooth) and put up a steel crown to protect the tooth from wearing out. Severe cases may require the tooth to be extracted and replaced by an implant or bridge. In mild cases, the dentist may just recommend avoidance of sugary foods, regular cleaning, and fluoride treatments.
Early Childhood Caries
ECC or Early Childhood Caries is what doctors and dentists call decaying teeth among infants and toddlers. Dental caries can start even at the start of teething. Once a child’s teeth have caries, the teeth can be destroyed within 6 months.
The conditions previously mentioned can lead to early childhood carries. Children who are exposed to over-consumption of sugary foods are also at high risk. ECC does not only affect children in terms of cavities and loss of teeth, but also of pain and discomfort in chewing food – making them picky to certain types of food. This situation can deprived them of nutrients necessary for their overall growth and development.
Regular tooth brushing with toothpaste is one way to prevent ECC. It will also be good if you mildly and softly brush the gums that have no teeth in them yet. If your child is milk feeding from the bottle, it is advisable to hold the bottle while he/she is feeding. Discontinuing bottle feeding once the child reaches 12 months is also recommended.
It is important that your baby is checked up by a paediatric dentist within the first year of his/her life, preferably when the first tooth has bud up. However, if you see your child experiencing the symptoms and conditions mentioned above, it is best for your baby that you consult with the paediatrician and/or paediatric dentist for proper assessment and treatment.
*Bilirubin is the yellow or yellow-brownish pigment developed in the liver when it breaks down old and unused red blood cells.