.Early Childhood Tooth Decay

What Causes Tooth Decay?

As soon as a baby’s first teeth come in, they are susceptible to decay.  Several specific types of bacteria that live on the teeth cause decay. When sugar is consumed, these bacteria use the sugar and then manufacture acids that dissolve the teeth and cause an infection in the tooth. This infection is called decay or dental caries.

What Is Early Childhood caries?

Babies who go to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, or juice are more likely to get tooth decay. Likewise babies who co-sleep with their parent, and nurse off and on during the night, are at high risk. Because the sugar in breast milk, cow’s milk, formula or juice stays in contact with the teeth for a long time during the night, the teeth can decay quickly.

Some Tips To Avoid Early Childhood caries

  • Put your child to bed with a bottle of plain warm water, not milk or juice.  You can start by gradually diluting the milk with water, slowly increasing the percentage of water.
  • Stop nursing when your child goes to sleep, and then wipe their teeth with a soft, moist washcloth.  The upper front teeth are the most susceptible, so be sure to wipe both their front and back sides.
  • Try not to let your child walk around using a bottle of milk or juice as a pacifier.
  • Start to teach your child to drink from a cup at about six months of age. 
  • Never dip the nipple of your child’s bottle in honey or any other sweetener. 
  • Start cleaning your child’s front teeth with a wet washcloth as soon as they begin to come through the gums.  When they are further erupted brush them at least twice a day using a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste.

What Is Fluoride?

Fluoride is a naturally occurring ion which helps strengthen the outer layer of the teeth, called the enamel, and make it more resistant to the acid which leads to tooth decay. The tap water in Alameda, Contra Costa and most other Bay Area counties is optimally fluoridated to help prevent dental decay.  In some parts of the state and country where there is no fluoride in the water, pediatric dentists will prescribe fluoride supplements in the form of liquids or tablets for their patients.  These are not necessary, however, in our area.  Water fluoridation, in combination with healthy snacking and good oral hygiene using a fluoride-containing toothpaste, can be of significant help in reducing dental decay..