Early Childhood Caries: What Is It?

Early childhood caries (ECC) is one of the most prevalent, yet preventable disease in children younger than 6 years old. Usually limited to the deciduous (baby) teeth that are replaced by permanent teeth between ages 6 and 12, a child is five times more likely to be diagnosed with ECC than asthma, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). Here's all you need to know about ECC and how to keep your child's mouth healthy.

What Are ECCs?

An ECC is considered present in a child if he or she is younger than 6 and has already developed two or more cavities in the first set of teeth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates over 20 percent of children younger than 6 are affected by ECCs.

What Are the Risk Factors?

The AAPD notes the following risk factors for infants:

  • Have not visited the dentist yet
  • Go to sleep with a baby bottle filled with fruit juice or milk
  • Don't have their gums wiped or teeth brushed before bedtime

For toddlers and young children, the risks are similar, especially when it comes to drinking milk and juice between meal times. The sugar from these beverages coats the teeth. Drinking plenty of water to wash away the sugar will help avoid baby bottle tooth decay.

How Can They Be Prevented?

The American Dental Association recommends that all children be seen by the age of 1 year by a general or pediatric dentist, as that is usually when the lower and upper front baby teeth begin to appear. Brushing twice daily with a toothpaste that's enamel safe with a clinically proven fluoride formula for kids, such as Colgate Kids Cavity Protection toothpaste, scheduling regular dentist visits, and serving healthy foods that don't contain large amounts of sugar are three easy ways parents can lessen their child's risk of developing a cavity.

When children learn that toothpaste shouldn't be swallowed, you can add a mouthwash, like Colgate Minions Bello Bubble Fruit mouthwash to his or her twice daily oral health routine. It's an anti-cavity fluoride mouthwash that helps strengthen enamel and protect against cavities.

How is ECC Treated?

When detected early, cavities found in primary (baby) teeth can be easily filled by a general dentist or pediatric dentist. If extensive work is needed, a pediatric dentist may need to administer sedation (sleep dentistry) either at the office or in a hospital setting to put the young child at ease. Cavities can be very painful, so it's essential to have them treated right away.

Early childhood caries are completely avoidable with the help of parents and dentists. A healthy lifestyle and great oral health habits will help ensure a lifetime of healthy smiles.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Top Tips for Good Oral Care During Childhood

  • Brushing and flossing
    Begin using toothpaste to brush your child's teeth when he (or she) is 2 years old. Young children tend to swallow toothpaste when brushing, rather than spitting it out. Introduce fluoride toothpaste when your child is old enough not to swallow it. As soon as two teeth touch each other, floss between them once a day. You can use regular floss or special plastic floss holders.

  • Dental visit
    New parents often ask, "When should my child first see a dentist?” Your child should see a dentist by his or her first birthday.

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