Do not fall into the trap of thinking that just because infant teeth are temporary, they do not need to be well cared for. Infant teeth are just as susceptible to tooth decay as adult teeth. Tooth decay, when found in infants, is often called, “baby bottle tooth decay.” Baby bottle tooth decay can have debilitating effects, but it is easily preventable.
The most common cause for early childhood caries is from sweetened liquids clinging to the child’s teeth for too long. Giving your child any sweetened liquid; whether naturally sweetened or artificially sweetened, exposes their teeth to sugar and allows the bacteria in their mouth to produce acids. The longer the liquid is left in their mouth the more sugar there is for the bacteria to feed on.
One of the most common causes of infant caries is using a bottle at bed time; especially if it is filled with milk or juice. Saliva flow slows down at night time creating an environment for bacteria to do harm.
Allowing your child to consume sugary liquids without cleaning their teeth may result in cavities and enamel erosion. What may seem like a small cavity on the surface, has the potential of becoming a large cavity as the bacteria reaches the softer inner tooth structures.
If left untreated, early childhood caries can result in painful infections. Teeth that are greatly decayed may need to be removed. In extreme cases, an infection that reaches the pulp of your child’s tooth has the potential to harm their developing adult teeth as well.
Baby bottle tooth decay is easily preventable. As soon as you see your child’s first tooth, begin an oral hygiene routine. For infants, use a soft, damp cloth to wipe their teeth morning and night. As they get older, introduce a toothbrush and show them how to brush their teeth.
DO NOT put your child to bed with a bottle or sippy cup containing milk, juice, or other sweetened beverages. If your child is accustomed to falling asleep while drinking, give them a bottle or sippy cup of water or a pacifier. You can help break this habit by gradually diluting their sweetened beverage with water over two to three weeks, after which switch to just water.
Limit your child’s drinking to milk and water. Steer clear of juices and soft drinks, as these are just empty calories that your child doesn’t need and sugar that can do more harm than good for your child.
Once your child is old enough to brush their own teeth and spit out their toothpaste; our Evanston dentists recommend using fluoride toothpaste to help prevent cavities. If your child is prone to cavities, we sometimes recommend prescription strength fluoride toothpaste.
No matter what age, oral health is important. Helping your children learn good oral hygiene is the first step in giving them a beautiful smile that will last them a lifetime. Make sure you start them on the path to good oral hygiene early in life.