Children and Oral Health

Good oral health must begin when your child is an infant. Health habits taught early will continue to provide benefits throughout your child’s life. But without appropriate care and attention, even babies and young children can develop serious and painful dental disease.

Recipe for Decay

The most common cause of tooth loss in small children is not accidents or injuries, but it is a condition called Baby Bottle Tooth Decay (BBTD), a pattern of severe and rapid tooth decay in infants and toddlers. Please do not let the name Baby Bottle Tooth Decay mislead you as it is a condition that also involves solid food that your child takes in including very damaging sugary foods, such as candy and dessert foods. The three elements necessary for a baby or young child’s tooth decay are teeth, plaque and foods/beverages containing sugar and starches.

Even infants with brand new baby teeth have plaque, which is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that constantly forms on the surface of the teeth. When plaque comes in contact with sugar and sweets, the bacteria in plaque produces acids that attack and dissolve the tooth enamel. This breakdown of enamel is what leads to the formation of a cavity.

Every time your baby or young child consumes sugary or sweet liquids or foods, the acids produced by the plaque attack the baby teeth. After numerous attacks by these acids, cavities can begin to form. What surprises most young parents is that the liquids that are good for your baby such as milk, formula, breast milk, and fruit juices all contain some form of sugar in varying amounts. These nourishing liquids can actually contribute to the development of cavities in your children. The sugary liquids gather around your baby’s teeth and gums, and the sugar acts as an energy source for the bacteria that produce the acids that attack the teeth and create cavities.

Preventative Measures

But tooth decay in infants and young children can be prevented. Parents should be especially careful about what they feed their children. Many parents will use a bottle or milk to pacify their baby at naptime and bedtime; however, the sugary liquids pool around the teeth and gums, starting the formation of cavities. The best way to prevent tooth decay is to put a child to bed without a bottle because while your baby sleeps, the natural saliva flow is reduced and the body does not wash away the sugary liquid. This allows plaque buildup. Instead try the following:

  • A security blanket, teddy bear or pacifier
  • Music
  • Rocking
  • Reading to your child
  • Using an infant swing to rock your baby to sleep

If you feel your child must have a bottle to sleep, fill it with water.

Good eating and dental habits established early create a foundation for healthy smiles in the future. Teaching good oral hygiene habits from the very beginning and avoiding sugary drinks and foods, especially at holiday time, is crucial to preventing dental disease in your little ones.

To learn more about pediatric dentistry and how to properly care for your child’s young teeth, please contact Dr. Tejas Patel at The Center of Cosmetic & General Dentistry in Austin, Texas today to schedule your complimentary consultation.