How Do You Prevent Tooth Decay in Children?

A mom holding her baby on the beach

Did you know tooth decay is the most common childhood disease?

42%… This text opens a new tab to the statistic source… of children aged 2 to 11 have had dental caries (cavities) in their primary teeth.

To treat tooth decay in children under five years old, your pediatric dentist may have to heavily sedate or give them general anesthesia. On top of that, these cavities can even be painful.

And worst of all, if children get cavities in their baby teeth, the infection will probably pass on their permanent teeth.

Luckily, you can help your little surfer avoid this preventable disease.

How do you prevent tooth decay in children?

Before we dive into our tips, let’s quickly go over what causes childhood tooth decay.

Quick answer: It’s the sugar that feeds bacteria and, in turn, causes tooth decay.

Informative answer: Bacteria consume some of the sugar your child consumes, which produces an acid that slowly weakens the enamel. Once sufficiently weak, the tooth breaks, forming a hole. Bacteria nest in the hole, making it hard to get rid of them. Eventually, it turns into a cavity and worsens over time unless treated.

Tip #1: Find a pediatric dentist

Starting at birth, every baby needs a “medical home” for regular doctor visits to ensure they stay healthy. Many parents don’t realize that babies also need a “dental home” after their first birthday, or even sooner if there’s a problem.

Seeing a pediatric dentist can help you make sure your baby doesn’t get early childhood tooth decay. It is a whole lot easier to prevent decay than it is to treat it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics… This text opens a new tab to the AAP website…, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists… This text opens a new tab to the AAPD website…, and the American Dental Association… This text opens a new tab to the ADA website… all recommend and encourage you to establish a dental home for your child by age one.

Tip #2: Clean your baby’s teeth

The tooth decay process can start as soon as the child’s first tooth pokes out from the gums, typically at 5-9 months.

To stop any cavities from starting, it’s important to begin cleaning your baby’s mouth very early. How?

Wipe your baby’s gums and teeth several times a day, especially after feeding and before sleep.

Spiffies Toothwipes are designed for this purpose and have natural xylitol added to help fight those harmful bacteria! Cold Spiffies from the freezer can feel great when gently rubbed your child’s sore gums.

Tip #3: Watch for symptoms of tooth decay

The first sign of a cavity is a chalky white spot or line, which is a sign that bacteria are active on the tooth and starting to soften the enamel. These spots often begin on the upper front teeth at the gum line.

To check for these spots, lay your baby in your lap and lift the upper lip using your fingers. This is also an excellent way to clean the baby teeth.

Brown spots may indicate a more advanced infection. If you think you see white or brown spots, you should see a child’s pediatric dentist right away.

If you catch the cavity early, the dentist may be able to stop the infection.

Tip #4: Help your child brush his/her teeth

Parents must clean their children’s teeth, beginning with the eruption of the first tooth and continuing until your child can tie his or her shoelaces.

Of course, they should be encouraged to brush their teeth themselves as soon as they can hold a toothbrush, but parents should be there to supervise, help, encourage, and time the brushing. This is especially important for the night time brushing.

This night brushing is critical because the bacteria that cause cavities have 12 hours or more to grow undisturbed as your child sleeps. Make sure this brushing is done as effectively as possible to stop those cavity-causing bacteria from moving into your child’s mouth as permanent residents.

Tip #5: Be aware of good vs. bad foods and habits for your child’s teeth

Once your baby has teeth, the single most significant risk factor for tooth decay is usually the diet.

The frequency of sugar intake, not the amount, is the problem.

Natural defenses like saliva are unable to keep up with frequent sugar insults that lead to acid production and decaying of the teeth. Items that can increase frequency, and thus prolong acid production and enamel destruction are:

  • Sippy cups
  • Baby bottles
  • Ad-lib breastfeeding (as opposed to a feeding schedule)
  • Sticky foods

Giving your child a bottle in bed after he or she has teeth is highly risky, and nearly always results in early childhood tooth decay.

Sippy cups should only be used for water, and a short duration as your child progresses from the bottle to a regular cup.

List of Best vs. Worst Foods

Tip #6: Take care of your teeth, especially moms!

Moms… One of the biggest risk factors that may lead to early tooth decay in your baby is the condition of your mouth.

The bacteria that cause dental decay will most likely be transmitted from you to your baby. The more plaque, decay, and cavities you have in your mouth, the sooner you pass the bacteria. The faster your baby receives these bacteria, the higher the chance of getting early childhood tooth decay.

By taking care of your teeth and gums during pregnancy, your chances of having a premature or underweight baby are less, and you enjoy the benefits of great oral health!

And for all parents, set an example of good oral hygiene habits and stress the importance of oral health.

Need a pediatric dentist?

It’s never too late to find your child’s dental home!

At Smile Surfers Kids Dentistry, we have board-certified pediatric dentists at both of our offices in Sumner and Richland, WA. Contact us today to see if we’re the right fit for you and your little surfer:

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