Given their temporary nature, it can be tempting to be a little less concerned about baby teeth than you would be about your tot’s adult teeth. Many parents only seek a dentist’s care once cavities strike, but early and preventive dental care for baby teeth can make both your life and Baby’s easier.
In fact, Early Childhood Caries (ECC), or tooth decay, is the most common childhood disease, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, even beating out asthma for the top spot.
What are cavities?
In order to understand cavities better, let’s first define what they are. Cavities – also known as dental caries or tooth decay – are holes in a toddler’s teeth that are caused by bacteria. Not all bacteria inside the mouth are harmful, though. Some bacteria help to keep the mouth healthy.
The bacteria that cause harm on your little one’s teeth feed on sugar. When the bacteria combine with sugar, it forms plaque. After a while, the plaque starts to eat away at the enamel on the teeth.
Take a look inside your toddler’s mouth right now. Do you see any white spots on her teeth? That’s the start of the decaying process. If not treated, the decay will continue to eat away at the tooth through the enamel (the first layer of the tooth), exposing the dentin (the second layer of the tooth). When this happens, pain and infection will occur.
The effects of cavities in baby teeth
It’s easy to wonder why cavities in baby teeth matter, when they’ll fall out with the baby teeth in just a few years, but the truth is, cavities and decay in baby teeth can have an impact that lasts much longer than the teeth they’re in.
- The cavities on baby teeth can affect the permanent teeth if left untreated.
- Baby teeth guide the permanent teeth. If they fall out before adult teeth are ready to grow in, there is a good chance that the permanent ones will be crooked.
- Baby teeth play an important part in helping toddlers learn to speak properly.
- Cavities are painful.
- If cavities are not prevented or immediately suppressed, the necessary dental care will be more expensive.
- Good dental habits built early on carry over to dental habits children have later in life.
- Brush your child’s teeth regularly. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research recommends brushing the teeth twice per day.
- Do not let your child fall asleep with a bottle. The sugars in the liquid, if it’s milk or juice, can pool around the teeth and lead to enamel erosion, which is a step towards cavities. For tots already in the habit of falling asleep with a bottle, weaning away from the habit can involve offering bottles of watered-down liquid and, eventually, water.
- Give your child fluoridated water – the fluoride level should be at least 0.6ppm. Fluoride helps to strengthen enamel and protect the teeth. You can also get fluoride from solid food such as grapes, chicken, and asparagus.
- Keep an eye on what your toddler eats. Sugary foods like ice cream, candies, and chocolates can definitely spur the process of tooth decay on.
- Since baby teeth are more prone to cavities than permanent teeth, it is important to bring your little one to the dentist regularly for proper care and management starting at the age of one.
Dental care is a hygiene habit that will be an important part of Baby’s routine for the rest of her life, and now is a great time to get started.
- “Early Childhood Caries.” mychildrensteeth. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Retrieved August 16 2017. http://www.mychildrensteeth.org/assets/2/7/ECCstats.pdf.
- “The Tooth Decay Process: How To Reverse It and Avoid a Cavity.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Health. National Institutes of Health, May 2013. Retrieved August 16 2017. https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/OralHealthInformation/ChildrensOralHealth/ToothDecayProcess.htm.
- “The True Story of Why You Get Cavities, According to a Billion Microbes.” UIC Dentistry. UI Health, March 29 2017. Retrieved August 16 2017. https://dentistry.uic.edu/patients/cavity-prevention-bacteria.