Tooth decay is one of the most common chronic infectious disease of childhood and I wished I had started taking care of them earlier. Madeleine got her first tooth at 7 months of age. I didn’t really pay much attention to cleaning it properly as I thought to myself “it’s only 1 tooth, how bad can it be?” Now that she’s almost 13 months with 7 teeth, I am cleaning them regularly twice a day. I started routinely doing this when she was about 11 months of age.
Baby teeth are important. If they are not well looked after, you could lose them at a younger age, causing the teeth that are left over to move closer together and leaving little room for the adult teeth to come through. The most common cause of tooth decay is due to children being put to bed with a bottle of milk. When a baby falls asleep whilst feeding, the last mouthful of milk (breast and/or bottle) is not swallowed. This milk pools around the teeth and causes decay. The upper front teeth and molars are usually the worst affected.
Other causes include a transfer of bacteria in saliva passed from parents and caregivers to the the babies. This includes sharing a spoon, testing food yourself before giving it to your child or cleaning off a pacifier in the parent’s mouth. Tooth decay can also develop if the child is frequently given sugary drinks such as fruit juice, even when it’s mixed with water. This is why I have not given anything other than milk or water to Madeleine to drink.
The first sign of tooth decay is usually a white spot that appears at the gum line on the upper front teeth. If you notice that your baby has this, it’s best to see a dentist as soon as possible to stop the decay spreading and to prevent further damage to the teeth.
So what can I do to prevent tooth decay in babies?
- Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, it is important to take good care of your baby’s teeth. My initial thought was that breastmilk is sterile and it won’t cause tooth decay. I was wrong. Breastmilk still contains sugars and can cause tooth decay.
- Never put your child to bed with a bottle or food. This not only exposes your child’s teeth to sugars but can also put your child at risk of ear infections and choking. Offer them the bottle or food then brush their teeth before putting them into bed.
- When first tooth appears to 12 months: Keep your baby’s mouth clean by gently wiping the gums with a clean baby washcloth. Once you see the first teeth, gently brush using a soft baby toothbrush. Use water only.
- 12 to 36 months: Brush your child’s teeth 2 times per day for 2 minutes. The best times to brush are after breakfast and before bed.
- From 18 months to six years of age: use a small pea-sized amount of children’s low-fluoride toothpaste on a small, soft toothbrush
- Children will need an adult to help them brush their teeth until they can do it well by themselves (usually about eight years of age).
- Teach your child to drink from a regular cup as soon as possible, I started at 12 months and Madeleine loves it. Drinking from a cup is less likely to cause liquid to collect around the teeth. Also, a cup cannot be taken to bed.
- If your child is thirsty in-between meal times, offer water only
- Limit the amount of sweet or sticky foods your child eats
- Do not offer your baby fruit juice or sugary drinks – water and milk is enough
- Make an appointment to have your child see the dentist
Tooth decay can be prevented. Talk with your child’s dentist if you see any sign of decay or if you have questions about your child’s teeth. With the correct care, your child can grow up to have healthy teeth.
References: Better Health Channel and Raising Children’s Network