Even an infant can get a cavity. If teeth are present, then so is the risk of tooth decay, regardless of the child’s age. Decay is the result of acids formed by bacteria feeding on dietary sugars. These acids attack the tooth’s enamel, eventually forming a breach or hole in the tooth called a cavity. This isn’t necessarily sugar just from candy and baked goods. Many non-sweet foods break down into simple sugars by the body. Examples of this are white rice, bread and crackers. This is why a child should never be put to bed with a bottle of milk or formula. The sugar in the milk (lactose) may lead to decay when it pools and sits in the child’s mouth all night. This is also why an infant who has teeth should not be breastfed all night long.
Some parents believe that baby teeth are expendable and are not overly concerned about dental visits at this time. This is a mistake. If a child’s tooth must be pulled due to extensive decay, there is a higher risk of crooked teeth (and orthodontia bills) later on down the line. This is because baby teeth serve as templates for the permanent teeth underneath them. They play a role in whether or not those teeth come in straight. This is why your pediatrician will urge you to get dental visits for your child early. In fact, a baby should have his or her first dental exam at about the age of one year.
Some Tips to Help Prevent Childhood Tooth Decay
1. Sugar is the main enemy. Avoid soda, kool-aid and even natural fruit juice as much as possible. Fruit juices are high in sugar, and some, such as orange juice, are high in acid as well. Fruit juice isn’t the same as whole fruit because it lacks the fiber that leads the sugar in the fruit, fructose, to be metabolized differently. If you must give fruit juice, be sure it’s 100 percent juice and not a “fruit drink” made mostly of water and high fructose corn syrup with colorings and flavorings. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting fruit juices to no more than 1/2 to 3/4 cup of pure juice a day, and servings should be watered down.
2. You’ll never have more control over your child’s diet than you do now. Children develop taste preferences while very young. Introduce whole grains and vegetables as soon as your pediatrician says you can. Whole fruit is healthy and a great alternative to sugary junk food. Peanut butter, yogurt and cheese make good snack choices for this age group. If your child does eat a sticky, sweet food like raisins or caramel, help him or her to rinse their mouth out thoroughly with plain water after.
3. Clean baby’s toothless gums with a piece of moistened gauze. From the very first tooth, clean them with a small, soft toothbrush. Ask your pediatrician about using a rice-sized bit of fluoride toothpaste. Floss your child’s teeth as soon as any touch each other.
Use your child’s early years as a time to set a lifetime pattern of good dental care. Although a preference for sweet foods is common even in newborns, it’s best to highly limit their intake of refined sugar. It has no dietary value, is high in empty calories, contributes to tooth decay and may increase your child’s chances of Type 2 diabetes. Take advantage of this time to instill good eating habits and to care for those baby teeth just as much as the permanent ones to follow.