The Specialist

Preventing childhood tooth decay

February is Children’s Dental Health Month according to the American Dental Association (ADA). As a dental practitioner of 34 years, I believe educating the public is a critically important service we should provide.

There is no greater time than now to promote good oral hygiene practices and prevention. Developing good dental health habits gives children a great start on a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. The ADA has chosen this year’s campaign slogan to be “Brush, Floss, Smile!” Thousands of professionals, healthcare providers and educators all across America and The Bahamas collaborate to promote the benefits of good oral health.

Tooth decay is the most chronic childhood disease. Every child is at risk. The enamel (hard outer layer) is much thinner and softer on baby teeth, putting them at greater risk of decay. The good news is that tooth decay, although prevalent, is preventable.

Baby teeth help children to eat and speak. They also guide the permanent adult teeth into position, so it is important to take care of your child’s teeth right from the start.

Dental decay is the number one reason why children ages five to nine are admitted to hospitals. These children suffer through thousands of operations to surgically remove rotting teeth. The public costs in these preventable cases are staggering. When a child’s oral health suffers, so does school performance, because children who are in pain cannot pay attention to teachers and parents.

The tooth decay process is also called “caries”. In the early stages, the teeth can appear white and chalky. In the later stages, teeth have brown or black areas. The upper four front baby teeth are most commonly affected.

Other cavities that affect small children are “nursing bottle caries” and “baby bottle decay”. These names are used because early childhood cavities can occur if babies and infants are put to sleep with a bottle of milk or formula (or other sweet drinks). In these situations, milk will pool in the mouth and the sugar in milk feeds the bacteria that cause decay as the baby sleeps. Saliva flow is low during sleep, so it does not protect against damage.

A great place to start is to practice the dental health tips to prevent childhood tooth decay.

• Remove your baby from the breast or bottle when finished feeding.

• Don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle.

• Never put sweet drinks in a baby’s bottle.

• Never dip pacifiers into sweet substances, such as honey, jam or sugar.

• Examine your child’s mouth regularly to spot early signs of decay.

It is important to start to clean your baby’s teeth as soon as the first tooth comes through the gum. Use a wet cloth or a small children’s toothbrush with water. 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. At six years of age, children should be supervised while they brush with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Brush teeth and along the gum line twice a day; in the morning and at night before bed.

The key to managing children’s teeth is to think prevention. Since their teeth are more cavity-prone, it is recommended that children have a dental check by age two. Early dental care and good home care go a long way toward a lifetime of optimal dental health and wellness.

• 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 For further information visit

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