Early childhood caries is the most common chronic childhood disease. It is defined as the presence of 1 or more decayed, missing or filled tooth surfaces in any primary (baby) tooth in a child under the age of 6 years old. Dental caries are 5 times more common than asthma and 7 times more common than hay fever. Early childhood caries or Baby Bottle Tooth Decay is a serious disease that can destroy your child’s teeth.
Early childhood caries is an infectious disease with many aspects and contributing factors. It can start as early as the teeth being to erupt and it often progresses rapidly causing pain to the child. Because the bacteria associated with dental caries is contagious, parents and caregivers are encouraged to visit the dentist to ensure their own oral health. Decreasing the mother’s bacteria level may decrease the child’s risk of developing early childhood caries.
Breast Feeding & Bottles
There are many sugary drinks that contribute to early childhood caries. Infants should never be put to sleep with a bottle. Unrestricted and at-will intake of sugary liquids during the day or while sleeping should be discouraged.
Although breast feeding has many health benefits, it should be monitored once the child has their first tooth. Breast milk contains sugar and can cause cavities if it is done at night or if the child breast feeds at-will.
Children should be encouraged to drink from a cup by their first birthday. Training or “sippy” cups can be used during transition, but shouldn’t be used at-will or for a prolonged period of time.
What Are the Effects of Early Childhood Cavities?
- Tooth loss
- Severe pain
- Tooth decay
- Misaligned permanent teeth
- Speech problems
- Poor self-image
Nutrition & Prevention
Infants and young children should be provided with a balanced diet for overall health. Diets that are high in sugar and fermentable carbohydrates can contribute to tooth decay after the eruption of the first tooth. Limit between meal snacking and try to snack on whole fruits and vegetables.
Proper oral hygiene practices are imperative for infants and children. Teeth need to be brushed every morning and every night. Once the teeth are touching each other, they should be flossed to prevent cavities in between the teeth.
Many children will want to brush and floss on their own, but we recommend assisting your child with brushing and flossing until they are at least 7 years old. Every child is different and some may require assistance with brushing and flossing for a few more years.
What Are My Treatment Options?
There are many contributing factors when deciding how to treat a child with early childhood caries. The extent of the disease process is considered as well as the developmental level and comprehension skills of the child. Your dentist will help you decide the best way to perform treatment safely, effectively, and efficiently on your child. Your dentist may use advanced behavior guidance techniques that may include, protective stabilization, nitrous oxide, and/or sedation or general anesthesia.
The success of the restorations may be influenced by the child’s cooperation and behavior. If your dentist recommends general anesthesia, it may provide better conditions to perform lasting restorative procedures. Your dentist will discuss your options in detail.
Children who experience early childhood caries are at a higher risk for future cavities. Optimizing home care, following your recommended dental cleanings, fluoride and radiographs are all imperative to avoid future cavities.
Tips to Help Prevent Tooth Decay
- Oral hygiene! Follow your dentist’s recommendations of brushing at least two times a day for two full minutes.
- Avoid eating a lot of sugary and sticky foods. The longer food stays on the tooth, the more acids will be produced. As a result, sugary and sticky foods can cause more damage. Even healthy snacks, such as raisins and dried fruits, can cause tooth decay, if they are left on the surface of the tooth for a long period of time.
- Cut down on snacking between meals. This will help prevent plaque from producing acids and will reduce the time that your teeth are exposed to harmful acids.
- Consume more calcium. Calcium helps to strengthen the hard, outer layer (the enamel) of the tooth.
- Drink plenty of water! Water and saliva clean the mouth, by washing away food and debris. Saliva supplies high levels of calcium, fluoride and phosphate to the surface of the tooth.
- Use a toothpaste and mouthwash with fluoride. Fluoride helps make tooth surfaces harder and stronger.
- Visit your dentist at least twice a year. Diagnosing decay in its early stage, can prevent unnecessary invasive treatments.