A child’s teeth begin to emerge when they are just a few months old and still drinking formula or breastmilk. As soon as the teeth erupt from the gums, they become susceptible to tooth decay. Surprisingly to some parents, decay can begin long before a child is eating three solid meals a day. The condition is called early childhood caries and is also known as ‘baby bottle’ decay, and it is caused by prolonged exposure to sugar-containing drinks. It is often seen in children who are put to bed with a bottle or given a bottle in place of a pacifier when crying. Baby bottle decay typically affects the upper teeth closest to the front of the mouth where formula or other drinks pass over the teeth. If bacteria are present in a child’s mouth, it can feed on the sugars and begin to cause cavities and decay.
Did you know…
that early childhood tooth decay can occur very rapidly? It is important to remain vigilant about keeping your child’s teeth safe by knowing the signs of early decay. Inspect your child’s front four teeth regularly for signs of caries or pain. If your child frequently pulls at his or her mouth, is verbally complaining of tooth pain, or has visual discoloration of the teeth, see a pediatric dentist immediately.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I have my child examined for early childhood caries?
Both the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association recommend a first dental exam within 6 months of your child’s first tooth erupting and every 6 months after that. However, if your child is exhibiting signs of decay between visits, bring him or her to a pediatric dentist for an exam immediately.
What should I expect during my child’s dental exam?
Children’s dental exams are much like those of adults. A dentist will examine the teeth and a hygienist will clean them. You may also elect to have fluoride treatments to prevent decay. If your child’s dentist identifies decay, it will need to be treated to prevent pain and infection. If decay is severe, your child’s infected teeth may need to be extracted.
Are there any special instructions I need to follow for preventing early childhood caries?
Children’s teeth may be temporary, but they still depend on their oral health to develop communication skills and chew food. You can prevent early childhood caries by adopting healthy habits when at the first sign of your child’s first tooth:
- Avoid putting your child to bed or consoling him or her with a bottle
- Avoid giving your child sugar-filled beverages from a bottle
- Make a habit of brushing your child’s teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush daily
- Begin using a smear of fluoride toothpaste when the first tooth erupts and increase to a peasize once your child can spit out the toothpaste
- Never share saliva with your baby, as it introduces cavity-causing bacteria to the mouth
- Avoid using a bottle after your child’s first birthday