Early Childhood Caries (Tooth Decay)
What Causes Tooth Decay?
Several specific types of bacteria that live on the teeth cause dental caries (cavities). When sugar is consumed, the bacteria use the sugar and then manufacture acids that dissolve the teeth and cause an infection in the tooth. This infection is called dental caries (decay).
What Is Early Childhood Tooth Decay?
Babies who go to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, or juice are more likely to get dental caries (tooth decay). The sugar in formula, milk, breastmilk, or juice stays in contact with the teeth for a long time during the night. During sleep you swallow less frequently and therefore saliva is less able to clear the mouth and the teeth can decay quickly.
Some Tips To Avoid Early Childhood Tooth Decay
- Put your child to bed with a bottle of plain water, not milk or juice.
- Stop nursing when your child is asleep or has stopped sucking on the bottle, and wipe their mouth/teeth with a wet cloth.
- Do not let your child walk around using a bottle of milk or juice as a pacifier.
- Start to teach your child to drink from a cup at about six months of age. Plan to stop using a bottle by 12 to 14 months at the latest.
- Don’t dip your child’s pacifier in honey or sugar.
What Is Fluoride?
Fluoride helps make teeth strong and prevents tooth decay. If the water where you live does not have enough fluoride, your doctor may prescribe fluoride supplements (fluoride drops or pills). You would give these drops or pills every day, starting when your child is about six months old. Only give as much as the directions say to use because too much fluoride can cause fluorosis (spots on the enamel of your child’s adult teeth). Also, be sure to call your local water authority and ask if your water is fluoridated. If it is, tell your dentist or pediatrician so that your child is not being over fluoridated. Children should take these drops or pills until they are 12 to 16 years old (or until you move to an area with fluoride in the water).