Did you know that in Hong Kong, two out of five kindergarten children have tooth decay? Studies conducted by the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Dentistry show that despite a slight decline over the years, rates of child dental caries in Hong Kong remain much higher compared to other world cities. In our interview with Doctor Carrie Tse, a dental surgeon and mother, we get advice on how to improve and maintain our children’s dental health.
When should parents take their child for their first dental visit? How frequently should they go for checkups?
It is usually advised that parents can take their children to see the dentist as soon as they have their first teeth. It helps build a relationship with the dentist so they continue to know them and won’t be afraid to have someone check their teeth. Ideally, for children to comprehend and understand what is happening, age 2-3 years old can be their first full check-up because most of the time by 3 years old, they should have all their baby teeth. If children are low-risk, meaning they don’t have many issues with their teeth, parents can consider visiting the dentist annually. If high-risk, meaning they already have issues like cavities, parents can consider bringing them twice a year for maintenance. It really depends case to case, and your dentist can give you advice on your first visit.
How do you know if your child is getting enough (or too much) fluoride? Is the amount in tap water enough?
For a healthy average child, there does not need to be any supplemented fluoride in their diet. Hong Kong does have naturally occurring fluoride in the water, however, I believe fluoride isn’t the main issue for healthy teeth. The practice of good hygiene with brushing and flossing, with parents helping to re-brush after their children brush, and also good diets, minimizing sugars are the keys to healthy teeth.
Toothpaste for children: when do you start using it and how much? When do you add flossing into the oral care routine?
Once children know how to spit and rinse without swallowing, they can use a pea-size amount of fluoridated toothpaste. Otherwise, you can use non-fluoridated toothpaste to help them build a habit and practice using toothpaste. Flossing can be done by the parents, as this requires good dexterity.
What are dental sealants, and would you recommend young children to have these?
Dental sealants are used for those who have naturally deep grooves and fissures on the surfaces or sides of their teeth. Most will recommend that once the first adult molars come up (usually around 5-6 years old) to seal these grooves and fissures to protect them from plaque getting trapped leading for risk of future cavities. I can’t give a blanket statement that every child should have these, as it also is case by case, so parents will need to listen to the advice of their dentist.
Will a pacifier or thumb-sucking effect the development/growth of babies’ teeth?
Prolonged use of pacifiers or thumb-sucking may adversely affect their tooth alignment and bone growth. However, after becoming a mother, I realized how hard it is to blatantly recommend not having soothers for babies, as it has its pros (as in, having a baby not cry all day long!). I would say both need guarded use, and as much as possible try to discontinue the use once their baby teeth have all erupted and limit the time they use it i.e. only for bedtime.
What are the most common problems with baby teeth, and what can be done to avoid them?
In Hong Kong, it is cavities, as mentioned. One big advice other than the key ones I’ve previously mentioned about good hygiene and diet – is night bottle-feeding. As much as possible, try not to let your babies go to sleep with the milk bottle. This is the cause of multiple cavities in young children.
What tips can you give that can help maintain children’s good dental hygiene?
Parents always ask how they get their children to brush their teeth or want to brush their teeth. My advice is start young and model positive and good behaviors. Babies, toddlers, children, young teenagers are smart. They know what’s important to you, if you do it; so whenever possible, model brushing your teeth in the morning and night as a routine. Model flossing, going to the dentist, and not being afraid. At the end of the day, we really aren’t that scary when everyone does their part.