A child’s mind is a curious one that is constantly growing. Children are quick to learn and usually know more than they let on. Their first words and first steps are all of huge importance. As parents, we try to prepare them and help them along as much as we can for these important ‘firsts.’
Parenting is possibly the hardest and most rewarding job in the world. It’s full-time, never-ending and can be quite trying at times. All parents and caregivers slip up once in a while and most times, these slip-ups become a learning experience. The odd time, though, there may be severe consequences that can last a lifetime.
The mouth, coined as the ‘gateway to the body,’ is easily overlooked, yet it is crucial to one’s overall health. Chances are that anyone with a toothache or other oral illness will not be eating, and there will be other complications because of it. The same is true of children - even if their baby teeth will be replaced by adult teeth by their mid teens. “But this is about more than just baby teeth,” says Dr. Leonard Smith, a pediatric dentist in Calgary. “Even though the teeth don’t last for life, the effects of poorly-kept baby teeth can last a lifetime.”
The first years of life are when a lot of development takes place. Almost day by day, you can see physical growth in a young child. The first tooth usually appears around six months of age. Since an infant’s first words aren’t spoken until later, though, the only way the child can express their discomfort is by crying.
Crying is how a child communicates with the rest of the world. During teething or when a child is first put down to sleep in their crib, they will cry a lot. This isn’t new information to anyone – and neither is using a soother or bottle to calm the child to help them sleep. What is news, though, is the fact that leaving a child with a bottle or soother all night will rot (decay) their teeth over time. Early Childhood Caries (ECC) or Baby Bottle Decay is a disease that is 100 per cent preventable, yet the disease continues to be a growing problem. Prevention should begin after the baby’s first feeding by wiping off the gum pads with a wash cloth and forever after that when the teeth begin to come into the mouth to brush and floss them – even at six months of age.
It’s not uncommon for most people to hear about ECC and shrug it off because it’s another ‘fancy’ medical term that means nothing or has no significance to them. Once someone learns that it is rotting and decaying baby teeth, more people start to pay attention. Dr. Smith is an advocate of keeping a child’s mouth healthy – and for more reasons than are obvious.
When a child has ECC, they are in pain, they are not eating and they probably won’t be sleeping. If ECC continues untreated for a significant period of time, it will start affecting the child’s development. The early years is when the child’s brain is creating a foundation for the rest of their life and a child that is malnourished and sleep-deprived may not develop as quickly or as well as other children.
It is sobering to think that if a child is left to live with rotting teeth for too long there is a possibility that it could hinder the development of their brain. This is a time when a child’s brain is creating the first pathways for learning, behavior, and physical and mental health.
There haven’t been many studies done yet since it has been widely overlooked in the past. Dr. Smith, pediatric dentist and founder of Healthy Mouth, Healthy Child, needs everyone to start listening.
“I believe that Early Childhood Caries (ECC) is a huge public health issue and would respectfully request that this issue be recognized as such that the ramifications of it in the untreated population be better understood,” says Dr. Smith.
Dr. Smith has sent out questionnaires to dentists all over Canada and the US to see if anyone else out there has noticed the complications of this disease and has found that he is not alone.
Not enough is known yet about how ECC might affect a child’s overall development but with everything that is known, it seems very realistic that by letting baby teeth rot (decay), it can have lifelong complications and repercussions for the child physically, mentally and emotionally.
Dr. Leonard B. Smith, D.D.S., M.SC., F.A.A.P., DIP. A.B.P., M.R.C.D.(C), is a specialist in children’s dentistry and has been in practice since 1972. He is the Founder and President of the Society for a Healthy Mouth Healthy Child (Alberta). Dr. Smith’s office, Dental Care for Children, is child-friendly accredited. He can be reached at 403-278-8000 or visit www.dentalcareforchildren.ca.
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