The Bite of Healthy Teeth
Callum Durward, the dean of Dental Health Sciences from the International University, Cambodia spoke to Khmer Times about children’s dental health in Cambodia.
What are the dental health statistics for children in Cambodia?
Close to 100 percent of children that have dental decay develop it by the age of six – the average child in Cambodia has nine decayed teeth. So it starts at a very young age and of all these children, 95 percent do not get treatment. When children lose their baby teeth early, the permanent teeth will grow in closer together so they end up with orthodontic problems as well.
They often experience toothaches, infections and have difficulty eating food that needs to be chewed, such as vegetables and meat, which can affect their general health. Some studies have shown that the body weight of children with decay is lower than other children with healthy teeth.
Why do you think so many children have dental problems here?
Firstly the early introduction of tooth brushing with fluoride toothpaste is vital for children and unfortunately in Cambodia many children do not start brushing their teeth until they get to school. Brushing should actually start as soon as the teeth come up with a small soft brush and just a smear of toothpaste.
The second one is related to diet. The weaning foods here often contain a lot of sugar, so from a very young age many children have a lot of sugar in their diet. That sugar, combined with plaque on the teeth, turns into acid and they get caries (dental decay).
Then we have the bottle feeding. Of course now everybody promotes breast feeding, which is very important, but in Cambodia there are still quite a number of mothers who are bottle feeding. This isn’t so bad if they stop bottle feeding at one year of age. Studies in Cambodia and internationally show that children who go to bed with a bottle, especially if it is continuing over a few years, will get dental decay. This is called early childhood caries (ECC). It starts with the upper front teeth and then spreads to the back teeth. Many children in Cambodia have this condition.
What is the key takeaway for parents?
Brush children’s teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
In Cambodia, we recommend adult toothpaste as it has a higher level of fluoride. There is no fluoride in the water in Phnom Penh and most of Cambodia so having that additional fluoride is very helpful considering the high decay rate. For a preschool child, just a little paste on the toothbrush is sufficient.
Try not to give young children a lot of sweet snacks and drinks especially between meals. If they are having something sweet, it is better to have it at a meal time.
If a child has decay, sugar-free chewing gum especially Xylitol gum helps prevent against caries.
Mouthwashes that contain chlorhexidine are also regarded as better for helping to remove decay.
Lastly parents should help to brush their children’s teeth up till five years of age, to ensure the teeth are thoroughly cleaned.
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