Even before all of your child's baby teeth come in they can develop cavities. More than 1 in 5 children between the ages of 2 and 5 have at least one cavity in their baby teeth. Cavities, also known as tooth decay, are one of the most common chronic diseases among children. On the plus side, cavities are nearly 100% preventable. Here’s how to keep your child’s smile healthy from the start.
Importance of preventing cavities in babies and toddlers
Healthy teeth help to chew, speak and smile. Tooth decay can make it difficult for young children to perform these functions well.
Baby teeth also hold space for adult teeth to come in correctly. Cavities can lead to crowding or crookedness in the adult teeth that are developing under their baby teeth.
Untreated cavities can cause pain, infections and problems focusing or learning.
How cavities are formed
Cavities are caused by bacteria in the mouth that produce acid that attacks the teeth. Bacteria feed off sugary or starchy foods and drinks that linger on your child's teeth.
A frequent cause of even more severe decay, known as baby bottle tooth decay, develops when an infant or toddler consumes sugary drinks on a regular basis. Even milk can contain a high amount of sugar.
Follow these tips to help prevent cavities in infants and toddlers
It is important to provide your child with healthy food and beverage options.
Give newborns breast milk, formula or water only. Don't give your baby a bottle of milk, juice or other liquids containing sugar when putting them down for a nap or at bedtime.
As your child begins consuming solid foods, make sure they are eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and foods that contain calcium such as milk, yogurt and cheese. Limit or avoid foods and drinks that contain a lot of sugar or carbs, especially ones that stick to our teeth. Provide your child with healthy snacks and give them water to help rinse away any leftover food.
Avoid passing bacteria to your child
Sharing isn't always caring. Make sure not to share forks, spoons, food and straws. Also, avoid cleaning a pacifier with your mouth. You can reduce the risk of passing bacteria onto your child by practicing a good dental hygiene routine yourself. Brush twice a day for a least two minutes and floss daily.
Start a good daily routine for your child's smile
It's never too early to start a good hygiene routine with your child. Even before their teeth come in, wipe your infant's gums with a clean, damp cloth after eating and drinking. Once their first tooth appears, use a soft-bristle toothbrush with a minimal amount of fluoride toothpaste and brush in soft, gentle circles. Brush at least once a day.
Once two or more teeth begin touching you may start flossing between them.
By age 3, you can begin using a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
Always consult with your dentist on a good hygiene routine.
Visit the dentist by age 1
Make sure your child sees a dentist within six months of getting their first tooth. The dentist will check for cavities, show you how to brush your baby's teeth, make sure your child's teeth are developing normally, and provide advice about food, drink and fluoride options.
Fluoride is the best defense against tooth decay. It makes tooth enamel stronger so that it's more difficult for acid to penetrate and cause cavities. Ask your dentist if you are concerned about using toothpaste with fluoride. Your dentist may also recommend a fluoride supplement such as varnish, drops, tablets or lozenges.
Drinking fluoridated tap water is a great way to get fluoride. Studies show that children who live in communities with fluoridation in their water have fewer cavities compared to children who don't have access to water with fluoride.