*Some Information Provided By ADA.Org
Your child’s baby teeth are at risk for decay as soon as they first appear-which is typically around age six months.
Tooth decay in infants and toddlers is often referred to as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay or Early Childhood Caries (cavities). It most often occurs in the upper front teeth, but other teeth may also be affected. In some unfortunate cases, infants and toddlers have experienced decay so severe that the teeth cannot be repaired and need to be removed. The good news is that decay is preventable. Tooth decay is a disease that begins with cavity-causing bacteria being passed from the mother (or primary caregiver) who has these bacteria in their mouth to the infant. These bacteria are passed through the saliva. When the mother puts the baby’s feeding spoon in her mouth, or cleans a pacifier in her mouth, the bacteria are passed to the baby.
Another factor for tooth decay is the frequent, prolonged exposure of the baby’s teeth to liquids that contain sugar, like sweetened water and fruit juice, milk, breast milk and formula. Tooth decay can occur when the baby is put to bed with a bottle, or when a bottle is used as a pacifier for a fussy baby. The sugary liquids pool around the teeth while the child sleeps. Bacteria in the mouth use these sugars as food. They then produce acids that attack the teeth. Each time your child drinks these liquids, acids attack for 20 minutes or longer. After multiple attacks, the teeth can decay.
Pacifiers dipped in sugar or honey can also lead to tooth decay since the sugar or honey can provide food for the bacteria’s acid attacks.
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that a dentist examine a child within six months after the first tooth comes in and no later than the first birthday. A dental visit at an early age is a “well baby checkup” for the teeth. Besides checking for tooth decay and other problems, the dentist can show you how to clean the child’s teeth properly and review any oral habits that may affect your child’s teeth.
A child’s primary teeth, sometimes called “baby teeth,” are as important as the permanent adult teeth. Primary teeth typically begin to appear when a baby is between age six months and one year. Primary teeth help children chew and speak. They also hold space in the jaws for permanent teeth that are growing under the gums.
Begin cleaning the baby’s mouth during the first few days after birth. After every feeding, wipe the baby’s gums with a clean gauze pad or wash cloth. This removes plaque (a sticky film of bacteria) and residual food that can harm erupting teeth.
As soon as teeth appear in the mouth, tooth decay can occur. Therefore, when your child’s teeth begin to erupt, brush them gently with a child’s size toothbrush and water. Brush the teeth of children with a pea-sized amount of fluoride-free toothpaste. Around 5 years of age you can switch to a children’s flouride toothpaste. Be sure they spit out the toothpaste and rinse with water. (Ask your child’s dentist or physician if you are considering using fluoride toothpaste before age 5)
Infants should finish their bedtime and naptime bottle before going to bed. Do not let your child fall asleep with a bottle in their mouth, unless its filled with water. If you use a pacifier, use a clean one. Never dip a pacifier in sugar or honey before giving it to a baby. Limit pacifier to bedtime only, under the age of 2. (Ask your child’s physician or dentist to recommend a type of pacifier.)
When teeth first come in, some babies may have sore or tender gums. Gently rubbing your child’s gums with a clean finger, a small, cool spoon or a wet gauze pad can be soothing. You can also give the baby a clean teething ring to chew on. If your child is still cranky and in pain, consult your dentist or physician. Most children have a full set of 20 primary teeth by the time they are three years old.