Yes, almost half the children in Singapore will have childhood caries. You can stop it, with tips from paedodontist Dr Terry Teo, of The Dental Studio, a Singapore Medical Group (SMG) clinic.

By 6, nearly half of all Singaporean kids will have tooth decay

1. What are the biggest problems facing a paediatric dentist?

In Singapore, about 26 per cent of all 3-year-olds have tooth decay (also called early childhood caries), and this number rises to nearly half of all children aged 6. Apart from this disease being the most commonly found in all children, most of these children are still very young, and may be fearful of the dental environment.

The biggest challenge of the paediatric dentist is to get every child examined, diagnosed and treated in the most safe, efficient and compassionate way possible, in order for them to build a positive dental attitude lasting for life. Good lifelong dental habits go a long way in preventing tooth decay both in the baby and the permanent teeth.

2. What’s the best way to prevent a child from being afraid of the dentist?

It is proven that children learn dental fear primarily from their parents. Thus, preparation for the dental visit starts at home. Parents who may be anxious about dental treatment themselves should take care not to show this to their children, especially in the use of negative words such as “pain” and “injection”. Instead, parents can explain to them that the dental visit will involve counting and cleaning teeth, and fixing any tooth problems the child may have. A wealth of educational material is available online to aid this explanation, all parents have to do is look for them on apps or video clips.

3. Sweets — how bad are they really for his teeth? If I get him to gargle and brush immediately after eating sweets, will that help? How about after every meal?

Sweets, chocolates and biscuits are all very sugary and sticky, and especially risky for young children’s teeth. The sugars coat the tooth surface, causing acid-producing bacteria to grow and create cavities. This is the process of tooth decay, which can affect teeth the moment they erupt.

Gargling with water is not very helpful in the prevention of decay, but brushing well twice a day especially before bed with a fluoride toothpaste is proven to help. Brushing after every meal your child eats is often unrealistic, but if it can be done then all the better.

4. Do I need to worry about flossing for my toddler?

The contacts between toddler teeth are very tight, more so than adult teeth. Flossing is thus difficult and will quickly become a chore for both child and parent. Most of the time, proper brushing technique and regular dental check-ups are good enough to prevent tooth decay and other dental diseases.

5. I was told that singing a song to my child could help build up his regular brushing habit. Roughly how long a song? Happy Birthday long? Count on Me Singapore long?

Again, there is a wealth of brushing songs available online to sing to your child. It is important to play them for your child first to decide if he or she likes it, than stick with it consistently so that your child is trained to associate the music with brushing. Choose a song that is about 2 minutes long as that is the recommended brushing duration.

Dr Terry Teo works at The Dental Studio, a Singapore Medical Group (SMG) clinic.

Getting baby to eat right at every stage

9 tips to raising a tot with the right mindset

When kids misbehave