It’s hard to imagine that a young child could develop cavities in baby teeth, but it’s all too common. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Association, approximately 40% of children between the ages of 2 and 5 have cavities!
Infants are born without the harmful bacterial that causes dental decay. However, once your child’s mouth has become colonized with the bacteria (called mutans streptococcus), your child will be more prone to cavities in both baby and permanent teeth. The bacteria feed on sugar, producing acid that eats away at the teeth by destroying the calcium. It also causes plaque, which contains even more acid. When the spot on a calcium-depleted tooth enlarges, the surface of the tooth collapses—which is a cavity.
The Cause of Cavities in Baby Teeth
- Bacteria spread by transferring saliva, such as when giving baby a bite of something off your spoon or by “cleaning” a dropped pacifier by popping it into your mouth.
- Sleeping with a bottle of milk or other sugary liquid.
- Drinking soda and/or fruit juice, both of which are highly acidic and loaded with sugar.
- Poor dental hygiene:
- It’s difficult to brush baby teeth, as children are often wriggly during tooth-brushing time.
- Likewise, flossing can be challenging.
- Lack of early dental care
- Many parents do not understand the importance of taking a baby to the dentist as soon as the first tooth appears. By the time several teeth have come in, the child may already have cavities.
- According to dental studies, only 10% of 1-year-olds and 24% of 2-year-olds have ever been to the dentist.
Can a Family History of “Soft Teeth” Result in More Cavities?
While some families believe that they have “soft teeth” as the cause of frequent cavities, this is scientifically incorrect. What’s more likely is that families with high levels of decay-causing bacteria pass the bacteria on to the kids. In fact, 80% of cavities happen in just 25% of children. This can explain why some kids eat lots of sugary sweets and drinks and never seem to get cavities, while other children, kept on a more sugar-restricted diet, develop them even with their parents’ best efforts at prevention.
Can Antibiotics Eliminate Cavity-Causing Bacteria?
Unfortunately, no. Because of this, your Manhattan pediatric dentist will ask you about your dental history at your child’s first appointment, to ascertain if your child is at a higher risk for dental caries.
But it’s important to treat cavities in baby teeth: These first teeth serve as space holders for permanent teeth, so losing one prematurely can cause alignment problems that will need to be corrected with braces later.
Preventing Cavities in Baby Teeth
- Even before your baby has teeth, wipe your infant’s gums with a clean, damp washcloth after each feeding.
- When that first tooth appears, purchase a soft infant toothbrush and, after eating or drinking, rub the wet brush around the tooth surfaces and gum line.
- No toothpaste should be used.
- Never put baby to bed overnight or even for naptime with a bottle containing milk or sugary beverage. If your child must sleep with a bottle, put water in it.
- Schedule an appointment with me as soon as the first tooth appears.
- Likewise, flossing can be challenging.
- Begin brushing your child’s teeth with fluoride toothpaste at the age of 2 years: just a smear is enough.
- Aim to brush for a full minute after breakfast and before bed.
- When 2 or more teeth are lined up beside one another, floss between them.
- Kindergarten & First Grade
- Brush with your child to encourage both of you to stick to a schedule
- Aim to brush for a full 2 minutes; using a timer helps!
- Most children can brush their own teeth at around 7 years of age, but be sure to check your child’s teeth after he or she brushes, to look for leftover food particles.
- All Children
- All children should see me at least twice a year.
- Limit the intake of sugar, which is the #1 cause of dental cavities. Exposing the teeth to sugars, even those in juices, crackers, pasta, cereals or raisins, prevents saliva from effectively cleaning the teeth.
- Offer water immediately after exposure to sweets, carbohydrates or sugary liquids, including milk.
- Brush and floss your child’s teeth at least twice daily.
- Many parents find it easier to floss with individual one-use flossing sticks.
- Training children with dental disclosing tablets helps them see for themselves where they need to brush more effectively
Ask me about protective fluoride varnish, which is applied twice a year. Studies show that 1-year-olds who received this treatment twice annually were four times less likely to have cavities in their baby teeth. We will also discuss sealants, which are incredibly effective at preventing children’s tooth decay.
Never Underestimate the Importance of Baby Teeth
The health of your child’s baby teeth cannot be left to chance. Losing a baby tooth to decay can affect the alignment of your child’s permanent teeth, increasing the chance for orthodontic treatment. Missing teeth can affect your child’s speech and contributes to additional decay.