Tooth decay can happen at any age. While baby teeth will eventually fall out to make room for permanent adult teeth, the thinner and softer enamel layer can cause baby teeth to experience decay.
In children, this condition is known as dental caries or baby bottle decay and it can affect eating and speech. Bacteria can go after baby teeth, resulting in white spots and brown areas, potentially causing them to fall out prematurely.
When this happens, the existing baby teeth move around and impact how the adult teeth come in.
Identifying Tooth Decay In Children
As soon as a baby’s first teeth appear, the risk for tooth decay exists. Habits like sleeping with a bottle can contribute to its development. Signs include:
- White spots close to the gum line, which can be difficult to see with the naked eye
- Chalky white patches that develop into brown or black areas
- Symptoms concentrated toward the front of the mouth
- Pock and pit marks
- Loose teeth
Should any of these symptoms go unchecked, your child may develop cavities and eventually, more severe tooth decay. To reduce this likelihood, consider the following steps.
Start with Brushing
Good dental habits should start during childhood. Set an expectation to brush and floss every day. In considering different ages:
- First Year: Clean your baby’s gums with a washcloth or gauze pad. When teeth come in, use a soft-bristled toothbrush and grain of rice-sized portion of toothpaste.
- Ages 1 to 3: Continue brushing your child’s teeth, twice a day for two minutes.
- Ages 3 to 6: At this stage, your child is ready to start brushing themselves using a small, soft-bristled toothbrush with a pea-sized portion of toothpaste.
Watch your child’s technique until they’re about 8 years old or can easily brush on their own. In the meantime, model good brushing behavior twice per day and flossing at least once.
Ask a Dentist About Fluoride
If there is little to no fluoride in your local water supply, talk to your dentist about when your child should start using a fluoride-based toothpaste. If you notice early signs of tooth decay, your dentist may recommend a fluoride supplement that’s directly applied to the teeth.
Limit Saliva Transfer
Despite good brushing habits, your child can still develop cavities from exposure to saliva that contains bacteria. You’re encouraged to keep your mouth clean and avoid sharing utensils and cups with your child. Even testing food before you feed it to a child can pass on bacteria.
Think About Eating Habits
Along with good brushing habits, think about your child’s diet and how they eat food
- Clean a baby’s teeth right after feedings.
- Avoid exposing their teeth and gums to food and liquids for long periods of time. Aside from not sleeping with a bottle, limit how frequently your child uses a sippy cup and snack or drink juice, which may contain natural and added sugars. Children 6 years old and under should have no more than 6 oz. of juice per day.
- Make sure meals have a balance of whole grains, vegetables and fruits.
- Sugar should be limited but if your child does eat something sweet, have them brush their teeth immediately after.
- Book your child’s first dental appointment before age one, ideally around 6 months. During these visits, a dentist will examine your child’s teeth and apply fluoride.
To learn more about our approach to pediatric dentistry, contact Smile Dental Center today.