February is regarded universally by the ADA (American Dental Association) as National Children’s Dental Health Month. As a result, thousands of dedicated professionals, healthcare providers and educators are promoting the benefits of good oral health to children and their caregivers.
In this column, I will address early childhood cavities (milk bottle caries) and the importance of preserving the primary teeth.
Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease that affects children. One in four infants suffers from tooth decay. If left untreated, it sets the stage for a lifetime of pain, suffering and poor healthcare. The most important message here is that this disease is preventable.
Why are early childhood cavities so common?
Early childhood cavities are common due to a lack of information and poor dental hygiene habits. As an example, a parent or caregiver would place the infant to bed or for a nap with a bottle still in the mouth. The contents of the bottle could be a sugary drink, cow’s milk or some form of formula. This common practice is in an attempt to pacify the infant often resulting in a perfect environment for cavity formation because of the intimate contact of sugar in the drink with the teeth. The acids given off by bacteria and the sugar dissolve the enamel, hence creating a cavity.
You should note that the enamel of an infant is thinner than that of an adult, or a permanent tooth. Therefore, it becomes easier for the bacterial waste to erode the enamel, causing a cavity and eventually pain. Also, bacterial plaque begins to build up on teeth as soon as 20 minutes after contact. If this is not removed properly, decay begins.
Early signs of childhood tooth decay are white spots around the gum line on the front two teeth.
Why baby teeth are important
• Baby teeth are necessary for proper jaw development and stimulation of proper muscle and teeth strengthening. Early loss causes smaller and weaker facial and muscle structure.
• Baby teeth are needed for proper biting, chewing and proper nutrition.
• Early loss often results in heavy psychological trauma caused by pain and suffering because of cavities and tooth extractions.
• Baby teeth prepare the jaw for the entrance of the permanent teeth. If they are lost early, then crooked teeth are a likely occurrence.
• Baby teeth are needed for a natural smile, speech development and building of self-esteem.
How to prevent early childhood cavities
• Breast feeding helps to prevent early childhood cavities because no cavity-causing white sugar is present in breast milk. As a result, breast feeding serves as prevention against tooth decay.
• Sterilize your baby’s feeding utensils and separate them from others.
• Clean your baby’s teeth with a clean gauze or soft cloth.
• Brush your baby’s teeth with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste for ages three to six years. This should be supervised by an adult.
• Avoid sugary drinks, juices and sweetened water.
• While baby is asleep, remove the bottle from their mouth and from the crib.
• Try to get the child to use a cup by age one.
• See your friendly dentist by age one, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
Early childhood cavities create unnecessary trauma for a child and their caregivers. This can be prevented by learning the facts and changing your dental hygiene habits. If you disregard this information, the result is pain, suffering, trauma and added expenses.
We dedicate the month of February to the education and application of preventative care and good oral hygiene habits in an effort to promote the health and wellness of our children. A healthy child is a happy and hopeful child!
• Dr. Kendal V.O. Major is the founder and CEO of the Center for Specialized Dentistry, which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in New Providence and Grand Bahama. He is the first Bahamian specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He is also a certified fast braces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, New Providence. He can be contacted at (242) 325-5165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.