Protecting baby teeth is vital since if they are lost too early, other teeth may move. When this occurs, there may not be enough room for the adult teeth to come in. When tooth decay occurs at a young age, treatment can be expensive, your child can experience pain, and it can lead to a life-threatening infection. Childhood caries, or cavities, is among the most common infectious diseases for children. Another name for tooth decay is baby bottle tooth decay.
It’s important for healthy dental habits to start early. Babies can develop tooth decay as soon as the first tooth is visible. Here is some information to help parents understand the causes and signs of tooth decay along with some tips on how it can be prevented.
What causes baby teeth to decay?
Acid-producing bacteria in a baby’s mouth causes tooth decay. Sometimes, bacteria pass to babies in saliva. This occurs when parents or caregivers share spoons or cups. It can also happen when testing foods before feeding them to the baby. Cleaning a baby’s pacifier by putting it in your mouth can share bacteria in the saliva. When a child’s teeth and gums are exposed to foods and liquids, other than water, frequently or for long periods of time, tooth decay can develop. The bacteria in the mouth changes both added and natural sugars to acid. This acid can begin to wear away the outer portion of the teeth leading to decay.
This commonly occurs when parents put babies and toddlers to bed with a bottle. Anything but water can contribute to tooth decay. This includes formula, milk, juice, watered-down juice, soft drinks, sugar water, or sugary drinks. The same is true once the child transitions to a sippy cup If they drink out of it frequently at night or throughout the day. Make milk available to children during mealtimes, but not during the day, at nap time, or bedtime.
Identifying Tooth Decay in Babies
The first sign of tooth decay in babies is often white spots along the gumline of the upper, front teeth. They can be difficult to see early on. A doctor or dentist may be able to see them by using specialized equipment. Once tooth decay is discovered, a child needs to be examined and treated early on to keep the decay from spreading and causing more damage.
Preventing Tooth Decay in Babies
There are several steps parents can take to help prevent tooth decay in babies and toddlers.
· Don’t put babies or toddlers to bed with food or a bottle. This is a choking risk, but also puts the child at risk for ear infections and exposes their teeth to sugars which can cause damage to their mouth and teeth.
· A sippy cup or a bottle shouldn’t be used in place of a pacifier. Toddlers shouldn’t walk around with a sippy cup all day or for long periods of time. If the child wants a bottle or sippy cup between meals, just put water in it.
· Check your local water source to see if it’s fluoridated. Children can benefit from drinking fluoridated water. If you do not have fluoridated water, or prefer not to drink it, ask your Upper East Side Kids Dentist about fluoride treatments to help protect your children’s teeth from decay.
· Transition your child from a bottle to a sippy cup as soon as it is feasible. Most children become ready to switch to a sippy cup between 12 and 15 months of age. Drinking from a sippy cup doesn’t lead to liquid collecting around the teeth as much. don’t let the child take a cup to bed with them.
· Limit sticky and sweet foods. Candy, cookies, fruit roll-ups, and gummies should be consumed on a very limited basis. Sugary snacks can be hard on the teeth. Even starchy foods like crackers and chips become sugary when consumed. Allow these foods only at meals.
· Schedule an appointment with a pediatric dentist before the child’s first birthday. If you have any concerns before then, see the dentist sooner.
Tooth decay is preventable. If you have any questions or concerns or notice any signs of decay talk to your Manhattan dentist. With proper care, your child can have healthy teeth for a lifetime. Please contact Dr. Shiva Basir, our Pediatric Dentist, to make an appointment for a dental exam for your child, or if you have any general concerns about their dental health.