Oral health though important is one of the most neglected aspects of a child’s overall wellbeing, especially here in the Philippines. The Global Burden of Disease Study 2016 reported that the country has the most number of children under 5 years old who are suffering from dental caries throughout Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific region. Dental caries or tooth decay, which is a result of poor oral hygiene, may sound like a simple problem but it’s actually a serious health concern parents should not overlook.

According to a top hospital in the Philippines, Makati Medical Center (MakatiMed), poor oral hygiene can lead to tooth decay or early tooth loss which affects the ability to chew food and may lead to poor nutrition. This may also impair speech, which contributes to poor school performance. Dental health issues can also affect a child’s self-confidence and self-esteem. Missing teeth, bad breath, or black stained teeth may make it difficult to develop social relationships. More importantly, poor oral hygiene is also linked to serious health problems like pneumonia and heart disease.

“Dental health problems are mostly preventable with proper oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist. Parents should be the first ones to introduce healthy oral care habits to their children,” says Geraldine J. Campos, DDS, Chairperson of the Department of Dental Medicine.

In time for the National Children’s Dental Health Month this February, Dr. Campos shares some reminders for parents regarding proper oral hygiene for their children.

Choose the right toothbrush and toothpaste for your child. Make sure that your child’s toothbrush has a small head, soft bristles, and a large handle. It should also be replaced with a new one every 3 months or sooner if the bristles are frayed. For infants, a soft washcloth or a soft toothbrush can be used by parents to wipe the baby’s gums – even prior to tooth eruption – to establish a daily oral hygiene routine.

Dr. Campos adds that children under 2 years old should use a smear layer size of toothpaste containing no less than 1,000 ppm (parts per million) fluoride, while children 2 years old and above should use a pea size toothpaste with 1,350 to 1,500 ppm of fluoride.

“Make sure that the child brushes his or her teeth twice a day,” Dr. Campos says as she emphasizes the importance of adult supervision until the child can brush his or her own teeth.

Practice regular flossing. An essential part to the tooth-cleaning process, flossing removes food particles and plaque in between the teeth that brushing is not able to reach. Flossing should begin when two teeth start to touch which typically happens when the child reaches the age of 2. Children usually need assistance with flossing until they are 8 to 10 years of age.

Take your child to the dentist. Dental check-ups every six months are an important part of good oral hygiene for children. “We highly encourage parents to take their children for a dental check-up after their first birthday or as soon as their first tooth comes out,” Dr. Campos says.

Prevention is always better than cure. Instilling good oral care habits early in your child’s life is the best way to prevent both tooth decay and gum disease.

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