Early Childhood Tooth Decay

What Causes Tooth Decay?

You need THREE things to form a cavity… 1) Teeth, 2) sugar/starches and 3) cavity-causing bacteria.

Because cavities has a microbial etiology, cavities cannot form in the absence of cavity-causing bacteria, regardless of sugar intake.

Tooth decay is a disease that can begin with cavity-causing bacteria being passed from the mother (or primary caregiver such as a nanny) to the infant. These bacteria are passed through the saliva. When the mother puts the baby’s feeding spoon in her mouth, or cleans a pacifier in her mouth, the bacteria can be passed to the baby.

There are many factors which can cause tooth decay.  An unhealthy diet can lead to cavities.  Several specific types of bacteria that live on the teeth cause decay. When sugar and starches are consumed, the bacteria use the sugar to manufacture acids that dissolve the teeth and cause a cavity. One common cause is the frequent, prolonged exposure of the baby’s teeth to drinks that contain sugar. Tooth decay can occur when the baby is put to bed with a bottle, falls asleep on the breast or when a bottle is used as a pacifier for a fussy baby.  In fact, any person who frequently snacks or sips drinks (other than water) throughout the day has a higher propensity for cavities.

Poor or inadequate oral hygiene can also lead to cavities.  This is necessary to get rid of the bacteria that leads to cavities.  Once the first tooth appears, the child should start brushing 2 times a day.  Also, children need to start flossing as soon as you note that neighboring teeth are touching each other.  A dentist can help you assess this.  In general, it should take 2 minutes to brush in the morning and 2 minutes to brush at night.

If your infant or toddler does not receive an adequate amount of fluoride, they may also have an increased risk for tooth decay. The good news is that decay is preventable.

What Is Early Childhood Caries (Tooth Decay)?

Babies who fall asleep on the breast or go to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, or juice are more likely to get tooth decay. Because the sugar in formula, milk, or juice stays in contact with the teeth for a long time during the night, the teeth can decay quickly.

Some Tips To Avoid Early Childhood Tooth Decay

  • Once your child has teeth, do not put your child to bed with a bottle.  If a bottle is necessary, fill it with plain water.
  • Stop nursing your child asleep once the first tooth appears.
  • Discourage ad-libitum breast or bottle feeding.
  • Do not let your child walk around using a bottle of milk or juice as a pacifier.
  • Start to teach your child to drink from a cup at about six months of age.  Plan to stop using a bottle by 12 to 14 months at the latest.
  • Don’t dip your child’s pacifier in honey or sugar.
  • For infants who continue to feed on demand at night, wipe the teeth clean after feedings.