Dental and oral health experts have warned mothers and caregivers to refrain from practices that allow saliva sharing between them and their infants to prevent the transmission of bacteria causing tooth decay.
The experts said this in a statement to mark World Oral Health Day on Wednesday in Lagos.
The statement was signed by Prof. Omolara Uti; Prof Bunmi Orenuga, and Dr Adesuwa Abe, of the Faculty of Dental Sciences, College of Medicine, University of Lagos.
They said that saliva-sharing practices such as chewing the child’s food before putting it in the child’s mouth and tasting the child’s food by first placing the feeding utensil in their mouth should be discouraged.
The experts also warned mothers and caregivers against kissing a child.
”Mothers with a high number of bacteria that cause tooth decay in their mouth due to their poor oral health have a high tendency of transmitting the same to their infants through salivary sharing activities.
”Hence mothers and caregivers are encouraged to imbibe good oral health practices and have any dental condition treated as early as possible,” they said.
They said that early childhood caries (ECC) has been shown to be a common, transmissible bacterial infection, usually passed from the primary caregiver to the child.
ECC is the presence of one or more decayed (non-cavitated or cavitated lesions), missing (due to caries), or filled tooth surfaces in any primary tooth in a child under the age of 72 months.
Tooth decay, also referred to as dental caries is a bacterial infection that destroys the tooth structure to result in a cavity on the tooth.
The experts said caries are caused by several factors, including bacteria in the mouth, frequent snacking, sipping sugary drinks and not cleaning the teeth well.
According to them, it affects human beings of all ages throughout the world and is a major health problem among children globally.
They said that the World Health Organisation in about 472 reports, which covered 29 countries and involved 59,018 children, reported ECC prevalence of 30 percent in Africa.
The experts noted that the reports showed prevalence of 48 percent in the United States; 52 percent in Asia, 43 percent in Europe and 82 percent in Oceania.
”Nigerian studies have reported an early childhood caries prevalence of about 23.5 percent.
”Early childhood caries is therefore a global public health burden, medically, socially and economically,” they said.
They said that causes of ECC included bacteria in the mouth, diet rich in sugar and a susceptible tooth surface.
They these causes interact over a period of time to cause the dissolution and breakdown of the hard tooth tissue.
The experts said that the risk factors of ECC include poor oral hygiene, infant feeding pattern (night-time breast feeding/bottle feeding), poor saliva flow, inadequate fluoride exposure and high sugary diet.
Other risk factors include poor dental awareness, low socioeconomic status, medical /special health care needs condition, especially those that require long term use of sweetened drugs.
They said that preventive measures should begin before the child was exposed to any of the risk factors, through enlightenment of pregnant and expectant mothers on their oral health behaviour.
According to them, night time breastfeeding, as well as allowing infants to sleep off with nursing bottles containing sweetened drinks should be discouraged.
”The consumption of sugary and sticky foods such as cakes, chocolate, candies and toffees should be reduced, while encouraging the intake of healthier alternatives like fruits and fibre-containing foods such as carrots, apples.
”Children should be encouraged to take healthy drinks such as milk, yoghurt and freshly squeezed fruit juices from an early age.
”Snacks should preferably be taken at mealtimes, rather than in between meals.
”Intake of water should be encouraged over sweetened or carbonated drinks,” they said.
They recommended that parents and caregivers should take their children to a dental professional for examination as soon as the first few teeth start to erupt into the oral cavity.
They said that the dental professionals would assess the present dentition and provide appropriate case-specific recommendations to the parents or caregivers on the best way to prevent ECC and what actions to take.
The experts said that commitment to these preventive measures and the inclusion in the basic oral health package would pave the way to a world of caries-free children.
They added that it would also set a foundation for good oral health through adulthood.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the World Oral Health Day is celebrated annually on March 20.
The theme for this year’s celebration is: ”Be Proud of Your Mouth”.