5 Mistakes That Lead to Tooth Decay in an Infant or Toddler

Some people think tooth decay can’t happen in infants and toddlers. This is not true! Once the first tooth erupts, little ones' teeth can be impacted by conditions that lead to decay. Although their intake is mostly mother’s milk or formula initially, they still can get harmful bacteria in their mouths and even form cavities. As they mature, they can start eating and drinking things that allow plaque and other harmful bacteria to thrive in their mouths. What are the five most common mistakes leading to tooth decay in your child? Let’s find out!


Not Brushing Twice Daily

Brushing?! For a baby?! Yes. Why do we do this? Believe it or not, all your child’s teeth are present when born. They just haven’t come to the gum’s surface. As soon as teeth begin to surface, they need to be cared for. At first, it can be as simple as wiping their gums and budding teeth with a soft cloth after their feedings and at bedtime, before you put them down for the night. Introducing a soft toothbrush when their first tooth erupts is ideal. Using a soft-bristle toothbrush, brush lightly until all the surfaces are clean twice a day. Until your child knows how to spit things out, you should use only a rice-sized portion of fluoride-free toothpaste. When your child has mastered the skill of consistently spitting out their non-fluoride toothpaste, then you may introduce a quarter pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.  Please rub the toothpaste into the bristles of the brush before you begin and have the parent be in charge of the brushing when using fluoridated toothpaste initially.  

It will be easier to develop a brushing routine if you begin when they are this small. As they grow, make sure they see you brushing. Toddlers love to mimic, and when they see it’s essential for you, they will know it’s important for them!


Not Flossing Once a Day

As soon as your child gets two teeth side by side, that touch one another, it is time to introduce flossing into the routine. Gently floss each side of the tooth, all the way down to the gums. This helps prevent cavities and gum disease. Most of the effort in flossing is side to side, not forced down into the gums.  Flossing should not be painful!  As with brushing, let them see you doing it, too. When they are old enough to comprehend, explain that we need to remove germs and food particles between their teeth to keep them healthy. 

Until a child can brush and floss independently, you will need to brush and floss their teeth for them. Then, supervise until they can do the job well. For many children, this will be sometime between 8 and 11 years old. Kids will usually be able to brush well a year or two before they can floss well enough to be completely independent.


Sippy Cups at Night

Unfortunately, cavities that are often associated with bottle feeding (baby bottle tooth decay) can also be caused by sippy cups when they contain anything other than water. It is important not to let your child go to sleep with a sippy cup with anything but water in it. Drinking milk or fruit juice in a sippy cup at bedtime allows sugars to gather on a child’s teeth and other mouth surfaces, which can lead to cavities.

Another issue arises when little ones sip on juice or milk all throughout the day. These both have natural or even added sugars! Frequent sipping allows sugary liquids to wash over the teeth, creating optimal conditions for cavities to form.


Missing Dental Check-ups

Your child should visit the dentist when their first tooth erupts from the gums. Usually, this is between 4-10 months. Occasionally, a baby will be born with a tooth or two, and this is completely normal. When you meet with the dentist, they can look at how the teeth are coming in and give instructions and tips to keep your kiddo’s mouth as healthy as possible. After the first visit, it is best for most children’s developing mouths to have checkups every six months. It is also a great idea to find a “dental home” - a place where your child can feel safe and comfortable. When children have a safe, comfortable dental home, with positive early experiences, it can set them on a path to a lifetime of good dental health.


Allowing Too Much Sugar

Sugar is not a bad thing, but too much sugar is a problem for general health and dental health. Unfortunately, sugar is hidden in many foods, so it is easy to consume much more sugar than is healthy.  Additionally, sugar is not just found in the white, grainy powder you put in desserts. Carbohydrates break down and become sugars. The sugars can cause plaque to form on the teeth and lead to cavities and even gum disease. 

It does help to sip some water after eating or drinking to rinse food and sugars from the teeth. It also helps to brush and floss regularly - but even these steps won’t prevent cavities if a person consumes a lot of sugar.

It is recommended that children under 2 not have any sugar, and those over 2 should have no more than 6 teaspoons a day. Juice is a big culprit - for example, 8 ounces of apple juice can meet or exceed the recommended amount for an entire day! 


Conclusion: We Want Your Child to Enjoy a Lifetime of Excellent Dental Health!

We want to help you prevent any issues with your child’s mouth, especially cavities, so we emphasize education and prevention. Dr. Culp may choose to watch and wait before treating, but if your baby or child’s teeth have signs of decay, they do need to be evaluated. Our professional associates can also help fix a problem with your little one’s mouth using techniques that allow your child to feel safe. We have made it our mission to provide the highest quality care at a facility your child feels comfortable (and even enjoys!) coming to. We would be honored to become your child’s dental home – the place you trust and return to for your child’s dental needs. 


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