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Dangers of cavities in milk teeth
  • Children’s milk teeth are susceptible to decay as soon as they first appear.
  • Untreated cavities can cause infections, pain, and negative quality of life.
  • Decay (caries or cavities) in milk teeth affects over 530 million children around the world.
  • Tooth decay in children is highly preventable with proper oral hygiene, regular dental visits, a healthy diet, and oral health education of parents and caregivers.
  • Take your baby to a pediatric dentist as soon as the first tooth erupts and no later than age one.

One of the biggest myths in children’s health is that baby teeth are not important since they fall out anyway. Therefore, it is crucial that parents and caregivers are educated about the real impact of decay in milk teeth.

What is Early Childhood Caries?

Early childhood caries or ECC is defined as the presence of one or more decayed, missing (due to caries) or filled tooth surfaces in any milk tooth in children between birth and 71 months of age.

Decay in milk teeth is associated with poor quality of life, causing:

  • toothache, trauma, and sensitivity
  • difficulty in eating and speech
  • loss of self-esteem
  • impaired growth
  • increased risk for teeth crowding and misalignment
  • increased risk of caries in permanent teeth
  • decline in school performance
SEE ALSO: 12 Most Commonly Asked Questions About Children’s Oral Health
Cavities in milk teeth

What are the warning signs of caries?

In its early stage, caries does not cause any pain. It first appears as white chalky spots close to the gumline indicating that the tooth’s enamel is starting to break down. Without the right treatment, these spots will turn brown or black and will create holes or cavities in the teeth.

At the later stage, the decay worsens, and the cavities get bigger. Your child may complain of pain and sensitivity when chewing. Younger children who are unable to communicate their pain may no longer eat as they normally would.

What can parents do to prevent this?

  1. Never put your baby to bed with a bottle. If you must, use nothing but water. Sugary liquids (breastmilk, formula, or fruit juice) will pool in the mouth and your baby’s teeth will be under attack by bacterial acid for long periods of time. This is the major cause of early childhood caries, previously known as baby bottle tooth decay.
  2. Oral hygiene starts at birth. Wipe your baby’s gum clean using a soft, clean cloth after feeding and before bedtime to wipe away bacteria and sugars that can cause cavities.
  3. Start brushing as soon as the first tooth erupts. Use a smear of fluoride toothpaste for children less than 3 years. For children 3 to 6, use no more than a pea-size amount of toothpaste when brushing. Brush for at least two minutes twice daily. Nighttime brushing is very important.
  4. Floss as soon as two teeth touch. Start flossing your child’s teeth at age 2 or 3 years old to establish a good oral care routine early in life. There are floss picks with shapes, colors, and grip specially designed for kids. In general, children can floss on their own at age 10.
  5. Avoid frequent consumption of food and drinks containing sugar.
    • Select between-meal treats wisely. Frequent snacking of sugary food and beverages increases your child’s risk for cavities due to prolonged contact between sugars and cavity-causing bacteria on the teeth.
    • Serve fruit juices during meals or not at all. Children can easily drink a lot of juice because it tastes good. However, too much juice in your child’s diet can contribute to poor nutrition, obesity, and tooth decay.
    • Do not let your child drink from a sippy cup for long periods of time. Sippy cups allow milk and other sugary drinks to pool in the mouth. If your child wants the bottle or sippy cup in between meals, fill it with only water. Encourage your child to drink from a regular cup by 12 months.
  6. Take your baby to a pediatric dentist as soon as the first tooth erupts and no later than age one. Your child’s dentist will conduct a caries risk assessment and will guide you on proper oral hygiene, oral disease prevention, and information fluoride. Routine check-ups are recommended every 6 months.
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