Tooth decay is a very serious and also very preventable disease. At Smile Surfers, we believe in starting kids off on the right foot – even when they still have their baby, or primary, teeth.
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 baby’s first birthday, or even sooner if there’s a problem. Seeing a dentist early 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 Academies of Pediatrics and Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association recommend and encourage each child establish a dental home by age one.
Early Childhood Tooth Decay
Do you know that tooth decay is the most common childhood disease? 28% of American children have cavities by age 5. Children under 5 may have to be heavily sedated or even have general anesthesia to get their teeth fixed. 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. You can help your baby avoid this preventable disease.
Bacteria consume some of the sugar you eat and produce an acid that slowly weakens the enamel. Once sufficiently weak, the tooth breaks, forming a hole in the tooth. Bacteria nest here, making it hard to get rid of them. Any food or drink with sugar is potentially a problem especially if they are sticky or are consumed frequently.
Giving your child a bottle in bed after he/she has teeth is also highly risky, and nearly always results in early childhood tooth decay. Sippy cups should only be used for water and for a short duration as your child progresses from the bottle to a regular cup.
Once your baby has teeth, the single biggest risk factor for tooth decay is usually the diet. 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 breast feeding (as opposed to a feeding schedule), and sticky foods.
Transmitting Bacteria: Mother-to-Child
One of the biggest risks factors that may lead to early tooth decay for babies is the condition of the mother’s mouth. By taking care of your teeth and gums during pregnancy, your chances of having a premature or underweight baby are lessened. And you will also enjoy the benefits of great oral health!
The oral health danger to the child is a result of decay-causing bacteria being transmitted from mother to child. The more plaque, decay and cavities mom has in her mouth, the quicker she can pass the bacteria. The sooner your baby receives these bacteria, the higher the chance of getting early childhood tooth decay.
This 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 baby’s mouth very early. Simply wipe baby’s gums and teeth several times a day, especially after feeding and before sleep.
Signs 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 start 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 a good 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 children’s dentist right away. If you catch the cavity early, the dentist may be able to stop the infection.
Helping Children Build Healthy Habits
Parents should clean their children’s teeth, beginning with the eruption of the first tooth and continuing until your child can tie his or her own shoelaces. They should be encouraged to brush their teeth themselves as soon as they can hold a toothbrush. Parents should be there to supervise, help, encourage and complete the brushing, especially for the night time brushing.
This night brushing is critical as 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.
Establish your little surfer’s dental home as early as possible. Contact one of our Smile Surfers offices and make your baby’s first appointment. Put them on the path to good oral health and help build healthy habits for life.