A child’s first set of baby teeth play a pivotal role in how their adult teeth form when they get older. Baby teeth allow your child to eat solid food, speak clearly, and smile spectacularly during family photos. Baby teeth are also necessary for holding the space in the jaw where adult teeth will form. When baby teeth are lost at too young an age, developing teeth may shift inside your child’s mouth and drift toward these empty spaces. This can cause your child’s adult teeth to come in crooked or crowding each other. Preventing baby tooth decay starts by cleaning your child’s teeth regularly around the time they turn six months of age.
Causes and Symptoms
Your child’s teeth are at risk for baby tooth decay the moment they begin to appear. Dentists generally refer to tooth decay in young children as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay. Often this form of decay attacks your child’s upper front teeth, but in some cases the whole mouth can be affected. In extreme cases the damage caused by baby tooth decay cannot be repaired and the child’s teeth must be removed.
In infants and young children, tooth decay begins when cavity-causing bacteria is transferred through the exchange of saliva from the mother or father’s mouth to the child’s. This commonly occurs when parents clean a child’s pacifier by sticking it into their mouths, or when placing a spoon used to feed the child into their mouths.
Continued exposure to liquids containing sugars, such as fruit juice, sweetened water, and, in some cases, milk and formula can also cause baby tooth decay. Putting a child down to sleep with a bottle, or using a bottle as a pacifier, can also cause baby tooth decay to occur. The sugars in these types of liquids form around your child’s teeth as they sleep. The bacteria in your child’s mouth, called plaque, use these sugars as food to produce acids that damage the baby teeth for at least 20 minutes after each feeding. Tooth decay occurs after multiple attacks by plaque on the enamel of your baby’s teeth.
Baby tooth decay is easily preventable, as long as parents take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of bacteria.
- Parents should consider improving their own oral health by brushing, flossing, and using mouth wash to decrease the amount of tooth decay causing bacteria in their own mouths, or stop placing anything into their mouth they plan on placing into their child’s mouth.
- Wipe your child’s gums after each feeding with a clean, damp cloth to remove pieces of food and plaque that can build up after a meal.
- Handle brushing your child’s teeth yourself until they reach the age of six. Children who are left to brush their own teeth at a young age often miss important areas that need to be cleaned regularly.
- Resist placing juice or any other sweetened liquid into bottles. Use bottles only for formula, breast milk, or milk.
- Finishing feeding your child before bedtime, and do not give your child a bottle as they fall asleep.
Schedule your child a cleaning with Dr. Walker as soon as their first teeth begin to appear. While parents would never think of missing a routine checkup with their pediatrician, they can often neglect taking their child to the dentist until a problem arises. If you make visits to the dentist as routine as physical checkups, your child can avoid baby tooth decay and grow up with a healthy teeth and a beautiful smile.