By: Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman
Many of us wake up early in the morning and feel disgusted with a malodour from our mouth. Oral malodour or bad breath is halitosis in clinical terms. Although approximately 25-30% of the population is known to have some form of bad breath, the number among children is largely unknown.
Bad breath may be a symptom of different health conditions such as respiratory infection, gastrointestinal disorder, kidney disorder, or diabetes. Among the common oral health conditions that are responsible for bad breath are dry mouth, gum diseases, and deep carious lesions.
Besides, the presence of onion and garlic in food, alcohol consumption, and smoking can cause bad breath while the vast majority come down to oral hygiene.
Persistent bad breath in children is not a good sign. If their bad breath is caused due to any health conditions, seeking advice from a clinician is necessary. Or else, proper oral hygiene can effectively prevent bad breath, especially for children.
According to the Malaysian National Oral Health survey, approximately 70% of preschool children are reported to have toothaches and dental caries. If not for other reasons, poor oral hygiene could be blamed for these prevalent oral health conditions.
It is most likely that those children also had bad breath before they developed persistent toothaches and dental caries. This is where parental care for children’s oral hygiene plays a vital role in preventing bad breath and subsequent oral health complications.
Earlier we came to know from a study by Unilever Oral Care that 36 percent of parents in the USA are irregular in forcing their children to brush before sleeping, 21 percent sometimes let their children go to school without brushing their teeth, and 18 percent sometimes let children skip brushing as a reward.
The scenario could not be any better in Malaysia and elsewhere.
A lack of regular and proper brushing causes the formation of dental plaque – a sticky film of bacteria that constantly accumulates on the tooth surface. Food that remains attached to the tooth and in between the gaps of teeth makes it a safe haven for bacteria to grow.
These bacteria are the culprits to cause bad breath and eventually other complicated oral diseases.
Therefore, parents must help and if necessary enforce all forms of oral hygiene practice.
This includes proper gargling after meals to remove trapped foods in between the teeth; brushing in the morning and before sleep; showing them the right technique of brushing; and last but not least avoiding chewing chocolates and gums before sleeping.
For parents, those are more commonly heard than done. Perhaps many parents are well aware of those common advice from dentists. However, in reality, letting their children practice good oral hygiene is a challenge.
Perhaps parents can use some tricks to bring that practice into a habit.
For example, early in the morning or before sleeping parents can make their children brush their teeth standing next to them.
Or a parent may gently gurgle with plain water after finishing a meal while asking children to follow. Indeed, mimicking parents and the elderly for a child is more than a passion.
By following their parents or elderly at home good oral hygiene will become a regular practice and then a habit. Surely a child would love to mimic a parent’s act.
Furthermore, parents may encourage children to eat fermented foods and drinks that contain probiotic bacteria. According to recent research, food containing probiotic bacteria such as yogurt, sourdough bread, and miso soup can help dispel the embarrassment of persistent bad breath.
What is important for our children and ourselves too is making good oral hygiene a habit rather than a practice.
A good oral hygiene habit will not only effectively prevent bad breath from childhood but also will ensure good oral health in adulthood.
The author is the Associate Dean (Continuing Education), Faculty of Dentistry, and Associate Member, UM LEAD, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at email@example.com