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“I, Willy Wonka, have decided to allow five children – just five, mind you, and no more – to visit my factory this year.”

As my son continued to read through the classic - Charlie and the chocolate factory, he kept dreaming about being inside the factory with Oompa Loompas singing and dancing around him. I could see the smile on his face growing wider with every page he turned over. Of course, the lollipops and the chocolate fountain and the marshmallows and the gummies were also making his tummy rumble and his mouth water. I've always said to my kids that there are no stupid questions. So, he asked me, 'Mom, can I buy a hundred packs of Toblerones and find my golden ticket?' Phew!!! If only the book was called Charlie and the fruit factory, all our troubles would have been extinct by now.

I studied Dentistry more than a decade ago and I haven't really practiced for a really long time. But I tried my best to make sure that my kids don't need to see the face of a dentist except for their regular check-ups. Because trust me, I know what it takes to do a root canal on a 6-year-old. All the four stakeholders - the patient, the dentist, the parents of the patient and the dental nurse by default hold their breath and grind their teeth. It's an inexplicably anxious situation. Unless of course the child is sedated. But in my son's case, I, being a cocky little idiot, said no to sedation. So, we danced the dance of panic while he tried to run for his life sitting in that dental chair, fighting his rubber dam. It was madness!

Anyway, so the point is that despite me trying my best to get them to brush twice a day and limiting sugar and starchy snacks for them and even taking them for regular dental check-ups, it happened. The frailty of children's bodies! It was meant to. A primary upper molar had a deep cavity and needed a root canal.

However, you may still ask how! I knew he was brushing his teeth twice. But he was doing it by himself half of the time to score brownie points while I struggled with my daughter's soap opera dramatic toothbrushing. 'Awesome Arjun', I would say to him and give him a high five everytime. And due to my complacency, his teeth were still precariously covered in plaque after brushing.

So the question that my non-dentist friend asked me was, "Why does he need to go through such torture if he is anyway going to lose this tooth in a few years?" As I said, there are no stupid questions.

Imagine a discotheque. The one which is jam-packed on a Saturday night. Now, some people get super wasted and keep leaving to throw up, lie down, make out, whatever! But the empty space they leave behind doesn't stay empty. People keep moving into those spaces to exercise their newfound freedom so they can show some new moves or just, you know, be able to breathe. Now, when some late running people join the party, they need to push themselves to be able to fit and dance. Because their claim to space in the club is now compromised. So they simply dance wherever they can find some space.

Teeth are like that. They sneak into every inch and corner they can find. They dance around in various directions, utilising any space available to do so. So if you leave a huge gap in between any teeth, they will undoubtedly move and obstruct the new permanent teeth from erupting freely. this causes the permanent teeth to erupt in unusual spaces and cause orthodontic problems. Yes, the ones you need braces for! And as we all know that prevention is better than cure. So we need to prevent cavities and preserve teeth.

The relationship between kids and sugar is as old as time. What started as a reward or recreation, has become unfortunately a staple. The sugar is hiding everywhere like a chameleon. Be it breakfast cereals or fruit juices, all the way to the so-called healthy and organic aisle in our supermarkets. The trade is the sole beneficiary and the other stakeholders are all at its mercy. Come what may, the decorated dessert aisles never give up. They attract attention through attractive packaging and sometimes even presumptuous labelling.

What I have observed is that even a single beautiful of sugar breaks the jinx of our body and we keep craving for more and feeling less guilty with every proceeding mouthful. But when the frequency of snacking increases, that’s when the problem arises. Dental caries or cavities are a kind of bacterial infection. Yes, the bacteria in your mouth which are constantly present all over. When the bacteria, the ones forming a thin opaque layer around your teeth called dental plaque, find more starch and sugar, they thrive. They feast onto this sugar which they have broken down from starchy foods that your child just ate. Excuse me for using a little bit of medical jargon, bacteria metabolize fermentable carbohydrates (e.g., sugars and starches) to produce acid, which then demineralizes tooth tissue. And if you don’t get rid of the dental plaque quickly and thoroughly, the bacteria keep feasting and in turn digging deeper inside your teeth causing deeper damage.

Let me share a few points that I learned in my dental school that might give you a little better idea about looking after your kid's dental health.

Let's talk about children’s teeth :

  1. 20 teeth become 32 - The chronology of primary teeth or milk teeth; or baby teeth if you must, is complete before your child turns 3 in most cases. Then you get a few years of peace before the tooth fairy visits begin at around 6 years of age. The kids keep losing and gaining a new tooth every few weeks.

2. But what’s the point of brushing primary teeth? -This is always the main culprit. Either not brushing properly or not enough. Proficient brushing of primary teeth is immensely rewarding. These are needed for chewing in those early years and a good gum and bone health and to maintain space for permanent teeth while the jaw grows and the new teeth replace them one by one. Losing a primary tooth too soon may lead to serious misplacement of other teeth and ends up crashing your life savings in the form of future braces for your kid.

3. Brushing - twice a day and brushing in circles or vertically only. Not side to side! Brush for a considerable amount of time to get rid of plaque. Also, that innocent tiny piece of a pudding or a rice grain stuck in between two teeth, or on top or anywhere, whom you never blamed is the secret evildoer. Catch me if you can, Mr Tom Carl Hanks!

4. Absolutely no fizzy drinks are good - Dental cavities are born when bacteria thrive and produce acid which slowly kills teeth. So, it makes perfect sense to avoid acidic foods and drinks. Carbonated drinks, including sparkling water and definitely all kinds of sodas, are BAD. Even the ones which are obscured under their deceitful no sugar labelling are highly acidic. And, where do you think all the flavourings come in those addictive candies that your children love? Yes! it's discreetly atrocious! And you are being blindfolded.

5. Make friends with Flouride - Use toothpaste with less lather and optimal fluoride content for your child's age. Talk about all that Jazz! Use just a pea-sized fluoride-containing toothpaste blob on the toothbrush and teach your child to spit it out after brushing. No swallowing! Fluoride helps in the re-mineralisation of early dental decay.

6. Say hi to the dentist - All people, including children, need a regular dental check-up. Once every six months is the recommended frequency of dental checkups. Trust me; you don't want to skip your golden chance of keeping all the teeth alive and happy. How hard could it be? It also teaches your children to look after their teeth from a very young age. The dentist will look for any little buggers and also treat the teeth the way they should be treated. Wash them, clean them, polish them and nourish them with fluoride!

As a parent, you always want the best for your kids and always want to do your best for them or die trying. And dental health is crucial. The number and variety of issues that arise if we are sloppy with maintaining it are unimpeachable. Don't be a moron like I was until I learned my lesson. Now, I fire all the toothbrushing shots for my kids. I don't leave the battlefield without removing any plaque. It takes 2 minutes. So aim for excellent dental health, and you might, perhaps, still land on an above-average bar on the dental health scale. Don't be that, Michael Scott!

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