SINGAPORE: From taping children’s lips to stop mouth breathing at night to helmets that mould a baby’s skull to a desired shape.
Social media has helped to spread tips and ideas on how to correct physical imperfections in children. But experts warn these tips are potentially dangerous.
A report published by Shanghai-based magazine Sixth Tone in September highlighted a growing number of parents who believe that they can enhance their children’s appearance by taping their mouths before they sleep.
They are convinced that this can prevent crooked teeth and help with jaw development.
According to the article, these products have been promoted by influencers on Chinese social platforms, fuelling demand from young parents.
Responding to media queries from reporters, Singapore's Health Sciences Authority (HSA) said it has not received any feedback or complaints on such products here in the past two years.
No adverse event reports for such products have been received, said a spokesperson.
A check of e-commerce platforms such as Shopee and Lazada found listings of “anti-snoring tapes” and “anti-mouth breathing stickers” by sellers based in Singapore.
Prices ranged from S$1.69 to S$7 for a box of 30 stickers, with the products mainly imported from China, according to sellers reporters spoke to.
In the review section of some listings, buyers who appeared to be based in Singapore posted photos of their children wearing the tape to sleep and claimed that it helped to prevent mouth breathing.
According to HSA, products such as these mouth tapes and head-shaping helmets are classified as "low risk" medical devices – or Class A – and are exempted from product registration.
Other examples of Class A medical devices are bandages, wheelchairs and surgical masks.
Importers and wholesalers of these medical devices are required to obtain the relevant dealer’s licences and to notify HSA. For other classes of medical devices that are higher risk, they have to register the products with the authority.
Under the Health Products Act, those who fail to do so can be fined up to S$50,000, jailed for up to two years, or both.
"Due to the borderless nature of the Internet and the difficulty in authenticating the sellers and the safety and quality of these products, consumers are strongly advised to purchase these products from local retail pharmacies or clinics," said an HSA spokesperson.
HSA said it will investigate the online sale of such medical devices, and take action if contraventions are found. This includes working with local e-commerce platforms to take down listings and issuing warnings to sellers, the spokesperson added.
DON'T USE TAPE ON CHILDREN: DOCTORS
Doctors reporters spoke to cautioned against the use of such products as they pose a risk to young children.
“It’s risky because some children may breathe through the mouth because they have sinus issues that obstruct their nasal airways. So it's very important to be able to breathe through the mouth,” said Dr Louis Tan, a general practitioner at StarMed Specialist Centre.
Taping the mouth for prolonged periods may also result in skin irritation, he added.
Dr Wong Chin-Khoon from the Singapore Baby and Child Clinic also said some babies breathe through the mouth due to reasons such as a congested nose or a more complex anatomical or structural condition.
He added that a chronic lack of oxygen when sleeping may also affect brain development including their IQ and general health.
Despite this, none of the TikTok videos reporters viewed mentioned that the practice might be harmful in any way.
Besides taping mouths, another practice commonly mentioned in motherhood and parenting forums and group chats is the use of helmets to correct plagiocephaly, also known as flat head syndrome where there is an asymmetrical distortion of the head.
According to the Sixth Tone report, vendors in China said that if a baby wears the helmet 23 hours a day for four months, it will develop a round forehead instead of a flat one.
Dr Wong said plagiocephaly is the most common concern among parents, but cautioned against purchasing such helmets online as helmet therapy is used only for certain conditions.
“Even for the most common congenital muscular torticollis or plagiocephaly, it is reserved for the severe cases and before the skull sutures begin to close,” he said, adding that this is generally before a child is nine months old.
In such cases, the helmet will need to be custom-made to suit the baby’s head shape and size to avoid pressure sores and poor results, he said.
“There is also a need for close follow-up to assess the effectiveness of the helmet therapy and look out for any complications,” he said. “Hence, it is not advisable to purchase it online.”
Currently, Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Orthopaedia Singapore, a private centre offering orthotics and prosthetics services, conduct helmet therapy. However, an assessment of the child's head will be conducted first, according to their websites.
With a deluge of tips and advice being shared on social media, Dr Tan said it is important to triangulate information especially from those who are not healthcare professionals.
“Parents should look beyond social media platforms and see whether they can find similar advice on recognised websites of healthcare providers or newspaper articles that talk about it – or if they have the know-how – they can look at published research papers to see if they support some of these ideas that are floating about,” he said.
“Sometimes, social media is designed to propagate good advice but oftentimes, it's designed to really just get more viewership and followers,” he added.
“Always go to your trusted paediatrician or family doctor to validate some of these ideas that are floating around. Nowadays with telemedicine, it's not too inconvenient to try to get time with your GP or paediatrician to ask about certain things.”
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