There's nothing cuter than a baby's smile, thanks in part to those adorable baby teeth. Unfortunately, 28 percent of children in America aged 2 to 5 suffer from primary teeth tooth decay. This condition is officially called "Early Childhood Caries" (ECC) and it threatens precious smiles across the country.
Not Just the Bottle’s Fault
Early Childhood Caries in infants' and children's teeth is more commonly known as "baby bottle tooth decay" (BBTD). Some experts argue that this phrase is misleading since poor feeding and eating practices are not entirely to blame.
The term may have been born from the fact that baby teeth cavities are commonly caused by putting a child to sleep with a bottle. As liquid pools in the mouth, it remains in contact with teeth for a long time. This allows bacteria to convert sugar into acids, which attack tooth enamel. Over time, the inner layers of the teeth are worn down, eventually leading to tooth decay.
It's what's inside the bottle that counts -- fluids containing sugary substances like milk, formula, fruit juice or soft drinks can wreak havoc on baby teeth. This increases the risk of tooth decay in babies that can start as soon as the first baby tooth appears.
Baby Teeth Matter
Unfortunately, some parents underestimate the importance of these little teeth, reasoning that they fall out anyway. What they may not realize is that babies need them for good reasons -- to chew their food, to speak and to hold ample space in the jaw for their permanent teeth, not to mention to charm their way out of any trouble.
This is why starting with a good tooth decay prevention routine early on is important to keep your baby's teeth healthy and to encourage a lifetime of good dental habits. Experts suggest the following tips to properly care for baby's teeth:
- Never put your child to sleep with a bottle containing sugary liquids. These provide bacteria with ample food to produce acids that cause tooth decay.
- Putting a baby to sleep latched on mother's breast even after feeding is also not recommended.
- Give your baby only clean pacifiers. Dipping pacifiers in anything sweet can sabotage a baby's teeth.
- Make sure your baby's gums and teeth are clean after each feeding. Wipe the gums with a clean gauze pad and massage the areas that remain toothless. As soon as the first tooth is out, start brushing with a soft toothbrush - and don't use fluoridated toothpaste until your baby is 2-3 years old, unless advised by your kid dentist. Flossing should begin when you're your baby's teeth have erupted.
- The American Association of Pediatric Dentistry encourages weaning babies from the bottle when they're about a year old. Try to have your baby drink from a cup before he or she turns 1.
- Most importantly, start your baby's dentist visits as soon as the first baby tooth erupts, usually around the first birthday.
Prevention is always better than cure, and starting regular dental visits early is one big step you can take to ensure your baby's oral health is at its best.