Most parents aren’t thinking about cavities when enjoying the gummy smile of their new baby. But dental caries, or cavities, can become a problem as soon as the little one starts teething. Teeth are an important element of good healthcare, right from the start. Issues with tooth decay can carry over into adulthood if not addressed early on.
Dental Decay in Babies and Toddlers
People sometimes reference being born with “soft teeth” when speaking about those who seem most prone to developing cavities. Research now shows that it’s likely the early presence of cavity-causing bacteria that is responsible. And, believe it or not, it’s parents who often end up introducing it to the baby.
How Do Babies Get Cavities?
Babies don’t have these cavity-causing bacteria present in their mouths at birth. But mothers or fathers with a history of cavities, or who currently have lots of fillings, can introduce it to the baby in many ways. They can do it by drinking from the same cup as their child, feeding their baby from the same spoon they’re using, or even just affectionate, sloppy kisses – anything that leaves traces of saliva.
A long period of exposure to sugar-based liquids also starts the process of tooth decay. Placing babies or toddlers in bed with these type of drinks, including milk, allows those bacteria to grow and begin to damage your baby’s teeth. The bacteria change the sugars found in those drinks to acids that start breaking down tooth enamel and causing decay.
What’s a new parent to do? Look for white spots along your toddler’s gum line or any brown spots on the teeth. With advanced tooth decay, your child may have swollen or bleeding gums, or perhaps signs of of a fever. Take your child to a dentist to confirm the diagnosis and get help with a treatment plan to stop the damage from spreading.
Treating Cavities in Toddlers and Children
What is the treatment if your child develops a cavity? Your dentist will want to start treatment right away if they confirm the presence of cavities in your child’s teeth. They’ll need to remove as much of the decay as possible, either with a drill or perhaps clean out the tooth with gentle laser dentistry. That’s followed up by placing fillings in the affected teeth. To prevent further decay and damage to other teeth, baby teeth must be treated just like permanent teeth. The dentist may choose a traditional and low-cost amalgam filling, which is a silvery-colored mix of metals, or a composite filling, which is a mix of powdered glass and acrylic resin. The composite can be matched to the color of the other teeth. While it is not as durable as an amalgam filling, the composite filling is mercury-free, and a good choice for use in children’s small and temporary baby teeth.
Advanced Dental Treatments for Kids
Occasionally, if not caught early, the child’s tooth damage will be extensive. This may require the placement of a crown over the affected tooth. The crown will probably be metal because it will only need to stay in until adult teeth replace the primary teeth. The parent will still need to be diligent to watch the affected tooth and surrounding teeth for further decay.
Dentists prefer preserving natural teeth whenever possible since they create space for adult teeth to grow into. If your child’s tooth decay advances to the point where extraction is the only option, dentists usually place some sort of prosthetic in place to maintain proper spacing for the secondary tooth designated to fill that spot.
Taking Good Care of Your Child’s Teeth
Building good oral hygiene habits from birth is the best thing parents can do to lower the risk their child developing childhood cavities. That puts children in a better position to maintain healthy teeth as adults.
Once your little one has begun teething, bring your child to the dentist for a check up. The dentist can help you devise a brushing and tooth care plan that will prevent these kinds of problems from occurring and set your child on a path to good dental health throughout life. Getting to know the dentist early makes future trips more comfortable too and makes dental care a routine they’ll maintain for life.
Care at home is vitally important as well. Following the tips below will go far to keeping your child’s teeth and gums healthy.
Preventing Dental Problems in Babies
- Avoid transferring items from your mouth to your baby
- Carefully wipe down your baby’s gums with a clean washcloth after feeding
- Gently brush emerging teeth with a baby toothbrush and a small amount of toothpaste containing fluoride
- Avoid putting the baby to bed with a bottle, especially if they’re teething
- Add fluoridated water to formula if you’re bottle-feeding
Preventing Dental Issues for Toddlers and Young Children
- Make sure your child’s drinking water contains fluoride
- Brush the teeth of children aged 12-36 months two times a day in two-minute durations
- Don’t send your child to bed with food, sippy cup, or a bottle
- Avoid sugary or sticky snacks
- Choose the right size brush and follow brushing routines appropriate for the child’s age
- Take infants in for an oral checkup around six months of age
- Toddlers should attend regularly scheduled dental visits
Good Dental Health Starts At Home
Taking the steps outlined above introduces your child to a lifetime of smart oral hygiene choices. Make it easier for kids to pick up on good habits by doing the following:
- Pick out fun toothbrushes and toothpaste flavors
- Use kid-oriented books or videos to help them learn about caring for their teeth
- Make a game out of setting a timer for two minutes and brushing your child’s teeth for that long
- Take kids somewhere fun after visiting the dentist
Every parent wants the best for their child. Dental care is easy when habits are formed early, so take time to get your little one’s dental health started off well. We hope these tips help you and your child bond as you work together to fight cavities.
Dr. Medina offers family dental care, including the latest techniques in pain free laser dentistry, teeth whitening and straighter teeth with FastBraces® for adults and kids in Las Vegas. Give us a call for your family’s dental needs.
Dr. Medina is a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS). Advanced General Dentistry, with a practice in Las Vegas Nevada since 1988. He offers general and family dentistry, with a specialization in cosmetic and restorative dental services.