Preventing Tooth Decay

What is tooth decay?

Dental decay is the number one disease facing children today. It is the number one reason for pain and absence from school for children. Children’s teeth are not simply “baby teeth” that will fall out. Cavities of baby teeth lead to pain, abscess, infection, swelling, and can lead to fatality if not treated. It is very important to prevent and treat dental decay in children.

Early childhood caries (cavities/dental decay) is the presence of one or more decayed (non-cavitated or cavitated lesions), missing (due to caries), or filled tooth surfaces in any primary tooth in a child 6 years of age or younger. In children younger than 3 years of age, any sign of smooth surface caries is indicative of severe early childhood caries.

What is baby bottle tooth decay?

Baby bottle tooth decay is caused by the frequent and long-term exposure of a child’s teeth to liquids containing sugars. Among these liquids are milk, formula, fruit juices, soda, and sweetened drinks. The sugars in these liquids pool around the infant’s teeth and gums, feeding the bacteria that causes plaque. Every time a child consumes a sugary liquid, acid attacks the teeth and gums. After numerous attacks, tooth decay can begin.

The condition is also associated with breast-fed infants who have prolonged feeding habits and with children whose pacifiers are frequently dipped in honey, sugar, or syrup. The sweets left in the mouth increases the chances of cavities while the infant is sleeping.

How can I help prevent dental caries?

Start dental care early, brush baby’s teeth with a fluoride toothpaste as soon as teeth appear in the mouth.

Brush teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. And if possible, clean between the teeth with dental floss at least once a day, preferably at night time before going to bed. Do not allow children to eat after cleaning teeth at bedtime as salivary flow decreases while they sleep and their teeth become more susceptible to dental cavities.

Visit the dentist about every 6 months for a check-up and routine cleaning.

Do not allow children to nibble food or sip drinks continuously. Allow time between eating occasions for saliva to neutralize acids and repair the teeth.

Dental sealants can also protect your children’s teeth from cavities. Sealants are applied to the chewing surfaces of molars to act as a barrier between the tooth and harmful bacteria.

Drinking water frequently throughout the day and wiping the teeth with a damp cloth (if no toothbrush is available at the time) can also reduce the possibility of new cavities forming.

What if my child already appears to have cavities?

The most important thing to do once you are aware that your child has dental caries is to make an appointment with your dentist for an examination and x-rays as soon as possible. Your dentist will be able to tell you if your child needs dental work and he or she will advise you on the needed treatment and possible alternatives available to you.