Teeth Decay in Toddlers: Tell the ‘Tooth’

By Tracy Wright
Girl brushing teeth

It’s so exciting when those first few teeth appear in our babies’ mouths, but decay can develop as soon as our children sprout baby teeth.

What causes tooth decay?

Typically caused when bacteria and other materials are left on teeth, common culprits of decay usually include sugary snacks and liquids that our toddlers enjoy. Common foods that may cause decay include milk, soda, raisins, candy, cake, fruit juices, cereals and bread, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

“Bacteria that normally live in the mouth change these foods, making acids. The combination of bacteria, food, acid and saliva form a substance called plaque that sticks to the teeth. Over time, the acids made by the bacteria eat away at the tooth enamel, causing cavities,” according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Is my child at risk?

Children who are at a higher risk of tooth decay include those who have a diet high in sugars and starches, water without fluoride and poor oral hygiene habits. Since baby teeth will eventually fall out, it may seem counterintuitive to care for them, but “your child’s first teeth are essential to the health of their permanent teeth— and the foundation for lifelong health,” as noted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

“Even though primary teeth start falling out when kids are around six years old, what happens before then will influence your child’s dental health over the long term. Research shows that diet and dental hygiene habits during a child’s infant and toddler years reduces the risk of tooth decay as they become older,” the AAP said.

Other key tips for keeping your toddler’s teeth healthy according to Johns Hopkins Medicine:

  • Don’t give your toddler a bottle before bed especially with milk or formula which can stay on your child’s enamel.
  • Limit sugary snacks especially candy, cakes, chips or cookies.
  • Besides milk or formula, make sure your toddler’s drink of choice is water and not juice.
  • If your home’s water is not fluoridated, discuss using a fluoride supplement with your dentist. In addition, ask the dentist about sealants that can be placed on your child’s teeth to protect them.
  • Make sure you are making regular visits to your dentists for routine cleanings.

Cavities in baby teeth will most likely need to be filled, which can be a scary or painful procedure for toddlers. Therefore, it’s vitally important to begin good oral hygiene as soon as your child gets their first teeth. Proper brushing habits should begin shortly after and a visit to the dentist as well. Children younger than 3 do not need a large amount of toothpaste; pea sized works fine.

What can I do?

“Set a positive example by letting little ones watch while you brush and floss,” said the AAP. “Explain that this is something we do twice a day, morning and night, even when we’re away
from home. Encourage good habits by adding fun to your child’s routine. Toddlers and preschoolers may enjoy brushing to music or marking their progress on a tooth care calendar.”

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