If you notice any redness in your child’s gums or they’re complaining of soreness, it may be an early sign of gingivitis, the first stage of gum disease. But even before symptoms appear, a child may be at risk of developing this dental problem, which is why preventative care is so very important.
What Is Gingivitis?
Gingivitis is the mildest form of periodontal disease (gum disease), and it is very common. Symptoms include redness, swelling and pain in the gingiva, which is the gum area at the base of the teeth. If left untreated, gingivitis can develop into a more serious type of gum disease that may require more involved and costly treatment. The primary cause of gingivitis is poor oral hygiene, which allows bacterial plaque and tartar to form on the teeth. Gingivitis can be successfully addressed when good home dental care is combined with professional treatment.
Is it Possible to Prevent Gingivitis?
Gingivitis is both treatable and preventable with regular dental examinations, daily brushing and flossing and a healthy diet. It’s never too early to start developing healthy dental habits for your child. WebMD recommends gently wiping your baby’s gums, even before the arrival of their first teeth. The sooner a child gets accustomed to having their mouth cleaned, the easier it is for them to develop good dental hygiene that will see them through their entire life.
Dental Care for Babies
From the time of birth, you can gently clean a baby’s gums with a moistened soft washcloth or a piece of clean gauze. Lightly wipe your baby’s gums at least two times per day, especially after feedings and before they go to bed. Doing this will prevent bacteria from leaving a sticky plaque on the gums that can be damaging to baby teeth as they begin to arrive. Once their baby teeth begin to arrive, you can brush the teeth with a specially designed baby toothbrush. These will have a small head, soft brush and large handle, made just for babies. Start by just wetting the toothbrush. Then use a small amount of fluoride toothpaste, the size of a grain of rice. Meanwhile, they should have their first visit to a pediatric dentist by age 1. When the child is 3, they can graduate to a pea-sized dab of paste. Continue until they’re old enough to hold the brush themselves, and then supervise them until they can properly rinse and spit out without being assisted (generally by age 6, approximately).
Preventing Gingivitis in Children
Another important step in preventing child gingivitis is to closely monitor what they’re eating and drinking. Sugars and starches are food sources for the bacteria present in the mouth. The bacteria create acid, which can damage the teeth and gums, leading to gingivitis. Babies and young children should not be given soda, fruit juice or any other sweet drink, especially right before bedtime, as the many hours without brushing can allow the mouth’s bacteria to interact with the sugar and create acid, which can damage the teeth and gums. Even milk can settle on teeth and may cause what is known as “baby bottle tooth decay.”
Can a Healthy Diet Prevent Childhood Gingivitis?
Certain foods can support a child’s teeth and gums. It has been shown in studies published by the General Dentistry Journal that cheese can neutralize plaque acid. In addition, the act of chewing increases the production of saliva, which can rinse out some of the mouth’s bacteria. Chewing crunchy, healthy foods like apples, carrots and cucumbers may disturb dental plaque in the mouth, giving the teeth and gums a rigorous cleansing. Foods with calcium (cheese, leafy greens and almonds) and phosphorous (eggs, fish and meat) help keeps tooth enamel healthy and strong. Phosphorous and calcium also serve to redeposit important minerals. Sugarless gum also boosts saliva production, which helps to clean away bacteria. However, even if your child eats a healthy diet, regular dentist visits, brushing and flossing is still very important!