If your child's baby teeth are going to fall out eventually, why should you be concerned about early tooth decay? Baby tooth decay – medically known as early childhood caries and sometimes called baby bottle tooth decay – can cause problems in children from birth. Why? Strong, healthy baby teeth don't just produce a beautiful smile; they're important for chewing food and developing proper word pronunciations. Plus, healthy baby teeth help adult teeth grow in correctly; early childhood caries increases the risk of crooked or damaged adult teeth.
Risk Factors for Tooth Decay
Although many factors can contribute to tooth decay in young children, one of the most common is frequent or prolonged exposure to sugary drinks, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Another common cause is exposure to fermentable carbohydrates, including not only the popular high-sugar foods, but also bananas, bread, breakfast cereals, crackers and milk – which break down into sugar in the body, including on the teeth.
Once a baby's first teeth appear, the more frequent that breastfeeding occurs during the day beyond 24 months can also increase the risk of tooth decay. Sucking motions limit the production of saliva, reports Reuters, preventing your baby from washing away oral bacteria.
Preventing Early Tooth Decay
The ADA recommends scheduling your child's first dental appointment within six months of the appearance of the first tooth and no later than the first birthday. Ask the dentist for guidance on personal oral care based on your child's own developmental needs.
Good oral hygiene practices at this age include cleaning the teeth after feeding and teaching your children proper oral care as they get older. As soon as your child's first set of teeth come in, according to ADA guidelines, use a child-size toothbrush, such as My First Colgate™ Toothbrush. Apply a smear of toothpaste the size of a grain of rice to brush the teeth gently until the age of three.
From the ages of three to six, you can brush your child's teeth with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Supervise your child's brushing until he understands how to spit out the toothpaste and not swallow it.
Other Preventative Measures
No matter what you do to curb early tooth decay, visit a dentist regularly to help maintain your oral health, because you can share bacteria with your child, especially when eating from the same spoon and similar actions. Also be sure to serve your child a balanced diet, like one based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
You should encourage your child to drink from a cup by one year of age and discourage the frequent use of a training cup. If your baby bottle feeds, let him finish the bottle before going to bed (at night or for a nap). If your baby breastfeeds, incorporate a nightly restriction after the first tooth appears to further promote the production of saliva.
Be sure to check your child's teeth periodically, and according to your dentist's instructions.