Healthy teeth, healthy kids: Teaching children good oral hygiene

Dental health for kids is just as important as overall health. Net photo

Some parents may wonder why baby teeth matter since they are going to fall out of the mouth one day, however, experts say that dental health starts from birth. Unfortunately, there is still an overwhelming lack of understanding that dental health for kids should start as soon as their first tooth erupts as an infant. Parents need to know what care is timely and proper to ensure their children have a healthy mouth.

Also, the need to reinforce good oral hygiene habits such as brushing and flossing at an early age will have an impact on children, as it comes from observing your own good habits.


With proper care, a balanced diet and regular dental visits, experts say children’s teeth can remain healthy and strong all the time.


Gonzalue Niyigaba, a dentist at University Teaching Hospital of Kigali (CHUK), says when it comes to kids, their dental health is just as important as overall health.


He says the first crucial step when it comes to this, is understanding that children’s teeth, including their baby teeth, need optimal care.

However, there is more to be done when it comes to sensitising parents on this, he says.

“Many parents assume that cavities in baby teeth don’t matter, because they’ll be lost anyway and replaced with permanent teeth, but this is a very misleading assumption,” he says.

He says dental decay in baby teeth can negatively affect permanent teeth and lead to future dental problems.

Why timely care is important

Understanding proper oral care for children ensures their dental health.

Christine Uwamwezi, the president of Rwanda Dental Association working at Inkuru Nzinza Orthopaedic Hospital in Gikondo, says there are a number of problems that affect the oral health of children, including tooth decay and early tooth loss.

She says even though baby teeth are eventually replaced with permanent ones, keeping their teeth healthy is important.

If their teeth are not well taken care of, she says, there are risks.

These, Uwamwezi says, include, bottle tooth decay, also called early childhood caries, which happens when a baby’s teeth are in frequent contact with sugars from drinks, including formula milk.

Uwamwezi says if they are breastfeeding, they are at risk of getting tooth decay since most of the time, babies fall asleep with milk in their mouth.

“If left untreated, decayed teeth can cause pain and make it difficult for them to chew food, which is very dangerous when it comes to their health,” she says.

Also, Uwamwezi notes that baby teeth serve as space savers for adult teeth; therefore, if the first teeth are damaged or destroyed, they can’t help guide permanent teeth into their proper position.

This, she explains, can result in crowded or crooked permanent teeth. In some cases, Uwamwezi says, badly decayed baby teeth could lead to an abscessed tooth, with the possibility of infection spreading elsewhere in the body.

Niyigaba says it’s also important to educate young children on oral care, especially from age six and above.

He says this is so because they will be able to grow with the knowledge on how to take care of their teeth; which will provide a generation free from dental caries.

Meanwhile, oral diseases are a major burden for almost all countries globally, and it urgently needs to be prioritised and addressed.

Oral diseases affect 3.9 billion people worldwide, with untreated tooth decay alone impacting almost half of the world’s population (44 per cent).

In Rwanda, the burden of dental and periodontal diseases (infections of the structures around the teeth, which include the gums) is portrayed by the findings released by the National Oral Health Survey of Rwanda Draft Preliminary Report in August 2017.

They indicate that nearly 50 per cent of children aged two to five and over 50 per cent of people aged 20 to 39 years have untreated dental caries.

What are good oral habits?

Moses Kamugisha, a dentist at La Nouvelle Clinic in Remera, Kigali, says in children, primary teeth start to erupt from the age of six months.

He says the primary dentition is complete by approximately two and a half years of age, and that the enamel of primary teeth is less densely mineralised than the enamel of permanent teeth.

Because of this, he says, they are more particularly susceptible to caries.

According to Kamugisha, ensuring proper oral hygiene for children helps reduce oral bacteria in the mouth, therefore, keeps the child safe from any dental problems.

“Practicing healthy habits can prevent or reduce tooth decay (cavities) in infants and children,” he says.

For infants under six months, he says it’s vital for a parent to always clean their gums with a soft wet clean cloth after feeding.

By the age of two, he says all of the primary (first) teeth should have come into the mouth — therefore, making sure they brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste is important.

At this age, Kamugisha says, it’s important to wipe gums twice a day with a soft, clean cloth in the morning after the first feeding, and right before bed, to wipe away bacteria and sugars that can cause cavities.

Between the ages of six to eight months, Niyigaba says the baby will get their first tooth.

He says it is important to care for these teeth right from the start.

For this reason, he says, continuing cleaning the infant’s gums after feeding is important, and at this stage, he notes, it’s advisable to use a child’s soft-bristled toothbrush, with no toothpaste, in addition to massaging the gum tissues.At 12 to 18 months, he says, if possible, it’s important for the child to have an oral examination by a dentist.

However, Kamugisha points out that continuing to brush a child’s teeth twice a day is important.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that a child goes to the dentist by the age of one or within six months after the first tooth erupts.

What to take into consideration

Kamugisha says besides regular tooth brushing with the right amount of fluoride toothpaste, the child’s diet is important.

“Child’s diet plays a key role in their dental health, and in most cases, sugar is the major problem,” he says.

He says the longer and more frequently their teeth are exposed to sugar, the greater the risk of cavities.

In addition to this, he says checking up with a dentist is important because they will be able to make sure all teeth are developing normally, and that there are no dental problems.

Niyigaba adds that beginning dental care early enough is key for the child’s health and that keeping their teeth and gums clean is the easiest way to keep them healthy.

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