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As a dentist, there is nothing I hate more than cavities.
That’s mainly because I know first-hand how much damage cavities can cause to a child’s health and well-being. But it’s also because I know that there are far too many kids in Manitoba with cavities that could have been prevented.
In fact, studies show that as many as 40 per cent of kids in this province will have at least one cavity affecting their primary teeth by the time they reach the age of six.
More than 3,000 Manitoba preschool children undergo pediatric dental surgery each year because they suffer from extensive forms of tooth decay.
Why is this happening in our province?
Part of the problem can be attributed to limited access to care and a lack of awareness.
Some kids, for example, live in lower-income communities and rural and remote regions of the province where access to early preventive care is limited. In other cases, parents may not realize just how important oral health is for their children. Some parents, for example, may be under the impression that oral health only becomes important once a child’s adult teeth begin to erupt, around the age of six. But the truth is that children who develop tooth decay at early ages are at higher risk of developing future decay and have higher dental needs throughout childhood and adolescence. Our own research shows that children with severe early-childhood tooth decay can be iron and vitamin D deficient, have iron deficiency anemia and have higher body mass index scores than cavity-free children.
So where can parents turn to learn more about early childhood dental issues?
Since April is Oral Health Month, a good place to start is with a trip to the dentist. All parents are encouraged to take their child for a first dental visit by the time they are 12 months old.
Not only does this visit give the dentist an opportunity to check their child’s teeth, it also gives parents a chance to learn more about the importance of early oral health from dental professionals. Parents in rural communities can contact the Manitoba Dental Association to find offices willing to see infants and toddlers. Parents can also take advantage of a new video on the subject entitled Lift the Lip with Healthy Smile Happy Child: Preventing Early Childhood Caries.
Produced by Healthy Smile Happy Child in partnership with Healthy Start for Mom & Me, the video is available in English, French, Cree, Ojibwe and Inuktitut. Among other things, the video explains why early childhood oral health is important and demonstrates how parents can check their child’s teeth for early signs of tooth decay. This is done at least once a month, by placing a child on your lap and lifting his or her lip to inspect teeth for any signs of tooth decay or abnormalities.
As the video points out, young children are at higher risk for cavities if they:
● Live in an area that does not have access to fluoridated water.
● Have visible plaque, white chalky areas or visible defects on their teeth.
● Have many sugary snacks or drinks between meals.
● Teeth that are not brushed daily.
● Have parents or caregivers with tooth decay.
The video also offers tips for protecting children’s teeth. They include:
● Brushing children’s teeth twice a day for two minutes at each time with fluoridated toothpaste, especially at bedtime.
● Using fluoride toothpaste if the child is at risk for tooth decay — a grain of rice sized amount if less than three years of age, a green pea size if three years of age or older.
● Flossing between teeth once a day as soon as teeth start to touch.
Parents can check out the video by visiting YouTube and searching: Healthy Smile Happy Child.
All versions of the video can also be found on the Healthy Smile Happy Child webpage on the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s website at: wrha.mb.ca/healthinfo/preventill/oral_child.php. The web page contains a number of other useful resources for parents, including fact sheets and toothbrushing tips.
These resources will provide parents with the information they need to help ensure their child gets off to a good start in life when it comes to oral health.
Dr. Robert Schroth is an associate professor and clinician-scientist at the University of Manitoba and section head of pediatric dentistry for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.