Tooth Decay in Babies – What is It?

Tooth decay in babies and young children is an infection. It can begin as soon as teeth cut through the gums into the mouth. Babies and young children most often present cavities on the upper front teeth but decay can be found in back teeth as well.

Early decay first surfaces as small white spots on the teeth. These white lesions will appear to get bigger or multiply. As decay advances, it will gradually change to a light brown stain and seem to lack luster or appear chalky. The cavity may turn dark brown to black. As decay worsens it will submerge deeper into the tooth’s enamel and seems to literally eat away the entire tooth. Eventually a cavity will make its way to the baby tooth’s nerve and blood supply impacting health and appearance of permanent teeth as well as the overall child’s health.

Parents need to remember that baby and permanent teeth are living organs and a tooth, as well as a child, can die from neglected infections. Less severe complications may include pain, inability to eat properly, speech difficulties, and premature loss of baby tooth.

Tooth decay is preventable and caused in part by germs. It’s painful and expensive to fix. Hospitalization is sometimes necessary for treatment of tooth decay in babies. Tooth decay can also change the way a child looks which affecting the way they feel about themselves.

Infants are not born with these cavity-causing germs. They get them from caregivers; parents, guardians or grandparents. Every time parents lovingly taste or test food before feeding babies they risk infecting their infants if their own mouth is not disease free and healthy. Other modes of transmission include:

• Sharing utensils such as spoons, cups or straws
• Sharing or testing food and drinks
• Sharing toothbrushes
• Cleaning off a fallen pacifier or baby bottle nipple with their mouth

Early Childhood Caries, ECC, as it’s referred to in dentistry, can lead to premature eruption and crowding of permanent teeth. It is a serious overlooked health concern with devastating outcomes. Prevention, early intervention and most importantly education are keys to taking control of this most common childhood disease.

Preventative measures include offering the breast, bottle or cup only at feeding times. Never put baby to bed with a bottle containing anything other than water. This includes diluted juices or milk. Even breast milk contains natural sugars that contact baby’s teeth.

Rock, sing or play soft music as a replacement to putting baby to bed with a bottle. Soft toys or a clean pacifier are acceptable bedtime rituals. Other important decay preventing tips include weaning and obtaining a dental home by age one year old.

Get babies use to having their mouth looked into regularly even before teeth arrive. Wipe gums, cheeks and tongue with a soft wet towel or gauze. Most importantly brush baby teeth as soon as you see them erupting. Only use a soft bristled toothbrush and change monthly as they wear down and collect germs.

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