We all know how hard it is to stay away from chocolates and candy — after all, who can resist their sweet, delicious taste? This can be a struggle for adults and children alike.
Tooth decay is one of the most common problems that kids face in their formative years. While some parents may believe that decay goes away as baby teeth fall out and are replaced with permanent ones, the reality is tooth decay can have a lasting impact on a child’s oral health. This is why it needs to be prevented as early as possible, so kids grow up with strong and healthy teeth that will last them a lifetime.
Learn about the effects of tooth decay on baby teeth, and see how you can protect your kids against it:
What is tooth decay?
You’ve heard your dentist say it time and time again — sugary food and drinks cause tooth decay over time. Combined with a lack of proper oral hygiene habits, bacteria nesting in the mouth can cause sugar residue left by chocolates, candy, soft drinks, and even artificially sweetened fruit juice to morph into acid that attacks the teeth. This leads to the development of cavities, and when left untreated, tooth decay. And it doesn’t take much to happen — eating or drinking sugary treats even just once can cause acid to attack teeth for 20 minutes or longer.
Myth: Tooth Decay Cannot Develop in Infants
Fact is, tooth decay can affect teeth at all stages of development. Still, it’s surprising to learn that tooth decay can occur in babies as early as 6 months old, as soon as their first teeth come in. Tooth decay is painful and uncomfortable, and when untreated, can cause infection to spread and ultimately destroy baby teeth. Aside from the dental complications, pain from tooth decay may lead to difficulty eating, depriving kids of the essential nutrients they need.
The Lasting Impact of Tooth Decay
Baby teeth hold space in the jaw where permanent teeth grow in. Severe tooth decay can cause baby teeth to fall out before permanent ones are ready to grow in. This can cause remaining teeth to drift into the empty spaces, leaving no room for adult teeth to properly grow. The result is crowded and crooked teeth, which don’t just affect your child’s smile, but also the ability to keep them clean and healthy.
Tooth decay in primary teeth is an indicator of lifelong oral health. That means kids who suffer from tooth decay in childhood are also likely to develop tooth decay even as their adult teeth grow in. That’s why it’s important to avoid decay as early as possible.
How to Keep Baby Teeth Healthy
Good oral health starts at home — for kids, this means learning how to brush, floss, and take care of their teeth by example. Here’s how you can help your kids do exactly that:
Clean Baby Teeth
Even babies whose teeth have yet to erupt need to have their mouths cleaned after feeding. Use a clean, wet gauze pad or washcloth to wipe your baby’s gums and remove bits of food lodged inside their mouths. This keeps the foundation of their teeth clean and healthy.
Once their first tooth appears, you can start brushing twice a day using a soft-bristled, child-sized toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Just remember to keep the toothpaste the size of a grain of rice if they’re under 3 years old, and pea-sized if they’re under 6. Teach your kids how to brush properly and make sure that they’re not just rushing through it to prevent plaque buildup and cavities from forming.
Healthy Breastfeeding and Bottle Habits
We already know that good oral habits start when kids are still in infancy, but did you know that even as they’re being breastfed or drinking from the bottle, measures can be taken to prevent cavities? To start, make sure that your baby finishes their bottle before going to bed in order to avoid prolonged exposure to decay-causing sugar.
Many kids grow up with pacifiers, but did you know that it’s become common for parents to dip these in sugar or honey to encourage uptake? This practice is unhealthy and will undoubtedly lead to tooth decay. Additionally, never place a pacifier or bottle in your mouth or share a glass or cup with your baby as bacteria from your mouth can transfer to theirs and cause cavities and tooth decay.
As for training or sippy cups, it’s important to slowly ease your kids into drinking from a cup by their first birthday. Compared to drinking, sipping can funnel more sugar directly to the teeth and cause cavities and tooth decay. if they are drinking juice or other sugary drinks, make sure to keep the cup out of reach and limit intake. Instead, instill good hydration habits by encouraging them to drink more water instead.
Take Your Baby to the Dentist
The earlier you take your child to visit a children’s dentist, the better it will be for their oral health.
A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is book your baby’s first visit to the dentist as soon as their first tooth erupts, and no later than their first birthday. This way, your dentist can check for early signs of decay and ensure that the rest of their teeth will grow in as healthy as possible.