Tooth decay often begins at an early age, making young children particularly susceptible. Nearly half of children between the ages of 2-11 have experienced tooth decay while 32% of kids between the ages of 9-11 develop cavities in their permanent teeth. Major contributing factors to this public health problem include baby formula with added sugar and heavily-sugared fruit juices. Even breast milk can cause cavities in baby teeth because of the natural sugars present.
Parents are usually shocked to learn that cavities are contagious. The bacterial cause of tooth decay can be passed along from person to person. Cavities, are caused by a bacteria known as mutans streptococcus. This bacteria feeds on the sugar in your mouth and creates an acid that eats away the hard enamel on your teeth. When it builds, it creates plaque that contains even more acid to eat away at your teeth. Some individuals tend to have more cavity causing bacteria than others. So, rather than so-called “soft-teeth” being passed along from parent to child (which is a myth), what’s actually being passed along is most likely a mouth full of bacteria. Studies have shown that 80 percent of all cavities are found in the mouths of only 25 percent of children. So how can you help stop the spread of cavities? Here are some practical ways to stop the flow of bacteria in your family: don't share utensils or toothbrushes, clean pacifiers in the sink, not in your mouth, keep your mouth clean and healthy.
Care for baby teeth should begin as soon as the first tooth appears. We recommend that you bring your child in for an exam no later than his or her first birthday. Regular six-month checkups will put kids on a schedule like most adults, establishing a routine that will last a lifetime.
The following early steps can help guard your child against tooth decay, even before their first dental visit:
Your baby's teeth should always be rinsed with water or wiped down with a damp cloth after feeding, especially before they fall asleep. Milk or formula residue left in the mouth can promote decay even in the youngest patients.
Try to wean your child off bottle feeding by their first birthday. This helps avoid decay and minimizes the chance of jaw growth problems from excessive sucking.
Begin brushing as soon as the first tooth appears. Even if it’s barely poking through the gum, a tooth can develop decay if not cleaned properly. Start by brushing with a soft bristled brush and water and ask your dentist when it's ok to begin using a small amount of toothpaste.
Help your child brush and remember that kids don’t have the dexterity to clean their teeth on their own until after they can tie their shoes.
Don't give bottles of sugary drinks or milk before bedtime.
If you do choose to offer sugary beverages, have your child use a straw, so the teeth to have less contact with the liquid.
Try to limit the overall sugary foods your child eats and drinks.