In young children, tooth decay is called early childhood caries (ECC), and the cause is important to know so you can be proactive in preventing it. No parent wants to take their toddler to the dentist to get fillings, but how can cavities be prevented? Is it true that bottle or breastfeeding can cause cavities?
To answer these questions, it is important to understand tooth structure, how cavities form in them, and how decay can be prevented. Basic tooth structure starts at the enamel, which is the hard, protective, outer layer of the tooth. Dentin is the softer layer just under the enamel, and the root, containing nerves and blood vessels, lies in the center of each tooth. The enamel and dentin are both susceptible to decay.
Your mouth naturally contains many strains of bacteria. When you eat foods containing carbohydrates, including sugars, such as milk, bread, cereal, sweets, juice or soda, some strains of bacteria thrive and produce acids. After you eat, these acids can attack your teeth for more than 20 minutes! So, the more often you eat or drink sugary foods, the more attack your teeth will be under. Additionally, the bacteria, acids they produce, and food particles combine with your saliva to form plaque, which clings to your tooth enamel. Once the plaque forms, acids continue to dissolve your tooth enamel, creating tiny holes called cavities. Left untreated, these holes become large enough to affect the dentin. Once the cavity reaches the dentin it can travel swiftly to the roots, eventually creating the necessity for an extraction or root canal.
You may think that children are going to lose their baby teeth anyway, so why does it matter if they get cavities? Tooth decay can cause pain, and good oral hygiene can easily help prevent this. Additionally, baby teeth prepare the mouth for adult teeth, and decay in the primary teeth can lead to serious harm to the permanent teeth. Research also shows that a child with cavities in their baby teeth is more likely to have cavities in their permanent teeth.
Since the frequent consumption of sugary foods or drinks increases the chance of getting cavities, does it mean that babies who bottle feed or breastfeed throughout the day or night are more likely to get cavities? While doing either of these things does not mean a child will get cavities, it is important to take steps to minimize the risk. Since sugar and acids sitting on the teeth increase the likelihood of cavities, it is important to wipe off your baby’s gums with a clean, wet washcloth or gauze after each feeding. This carries the extra benefit of them being used to the sensation and may help avoid a struggle when it is time to begin brushing their first baby teeth. Another way to guard your baby’s teeth against cavities is to prevent milk from pooling and sitting in their mouth while they sleep. It is best to try to have them completely finish their feeding before falling asleep, so you can prevent milk from pooling and wipe their gums and teeth clean. If you are concerned about the possibility of cavities from bottle or breastfeeding, talk with your pediatric dental professional about risks specific to your child.
Since bacteria that cause tooth decay can be transmitted from one person to another, it is also important for parents and caretakers to take great care of their own teeth. Unfortunately, the harmful bacteria can be passed to a baby through saliva, such as when a parent and child share a spoon or drink, or a pacifier that comes into contact with someone else’s mouth before the baby sucks on it.
How else can you prevent cavities? There are two main factors at play in cavity prevention, healthy dental habits, and diet. Obviously, if foods high in sugars and carbohydrates cause conditions that make cavities more likely, you do not want to be eating or drinking them very often. A healthy diet high in fresh vegetables, fruits, and dairy products, that avoids foods and drinks with sugar, will help guard against cavities. Since acids attack your teeth for more than 20 minutes every time you eat or drink something containing carbs or sugars, it also helps to avoid frequent snacking or sipping of drinks other than water.
Healthy dental habits are vitally important for avoiding cavities. Brushing twice a day, until all the surfaces of every tooth are clean, is an important place to start. You should do this for your child as soon as their first tooth erupts. Until your child is three years old, you should use a rice-sized amount of toothpaste on a soft toddler’s toothbrush. Be sure to limit toothpaste to this amount, and if you are worried about the safety of fluoride, we have created a guide to answer the question, “Should My Family Use Fluoride?”
It is also important to floss once a day when your child has teeth that touch one another, replace toothbrushes when the bristles begin to fray, and visit your dentist regularly. There are several ways to help your child form good oral hygiene habits and you can find many interesting tips for teaching your kids to brush their teeth.
Your child’s first visit to see a dentist should be when their first tooth comes in, no later than their first birthday. Your child’s oral health will benefit greatly if you find a dental home for them. When they are comfortable with a dental team that you trust, visits to the dentist are much easier for you and your child. At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry, we know how important dental health is and want children to begin their life with a positive dental experience. With that goal in mind, we have created a fun-filled jungle-themed office, with caring and professional team members, so your child will be excited to visit Jungle Roots and think of our office as their dental home. We are happy to provide answers to any dental questions you may have and want to help you teach your child to form great habits for a lifetime of oral health.
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.