As a parent, you would like to take the best possible care of your child. This includes dental hygiene, and most parents are confused about when and how to clean their child’s teeth and mouth. Your child’s mouth needs cleaning twice a day with a damp washcloth from the very beginning and brushing as soon as the first tooth appears.
Early childhood caries is the presence of one or more teeth with decay, or missing teeth, or teeth with fillings in a child between birth to 71 months of age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is highly prevalent and is present in more than 20 percent of children below the age of six. Fortunately, it is preventable and treatable.
What causes early childhood dental caries, and what can parents do to prevent it?
Dental caries is an infectious disease caused by bacteria. You may wonder how the bacteria reach your child’s mouth? Well, the most common route is from the saliva of the primary caregiver, usually the mom via a shared spoon, or straw or common glass. This the reason it is important that the parents also maintain good oral hygiene using a fluoridated toothpaste twice a day along with a mouthwash, and get any dental fillings they need. Avoid sharing spoons and other objects with your child as well. Cleaning the pacifier with water instead of in your mouth is better.
Sugary food and drinks
Frequent intake of sugars by the child is the other common cause. When the bacteria come in contact with sugars regularly in the child’s mouth, they break the sugars down to acid and this acid dissolves the tooth enamel and creates cavities. Parents often think that if they haven’t added any extra sugar into a food or drink, then it isn’t sugary. This is wrong, as milk, breast milk, milk formula, juice, potato, sweet potato, carrots, peas, rice, flour, and fruits all have their own natural sugars.
Meals should be at regular intervals of three hours and always followed by gargling or cleaning of the mouth by the parent. Frequent snacking leads to an almost constant acid attack on the teeth leading to tooth decay. Fruits are better than juice, as the fiber present in the fruit is better for the child’s bowel movements and its rough texture actually cleans the teeth when the child chews.
Use of baby bottles and sippy cups
The other common cause is extended use of feeding bottles and sippy cups. The milk or juice present in these tends to pool around the lower teeth causing severe decay commonly called nursing bottle or baby-bottle caries. The child should be taught to use a glass or cup as soon as possible. As long as the child is using the baby bottle or sippy cup, the parent must be very careful to always clean the mouth with a damp washcloth once the child has finished the drink.
Prevention of early childhood caries
- Help your child brush twice a day for two minutes with a fluoridated toothpaste till the age of six years.
- Make the child gargle after every meal, or follow the meal with water, or clean the child’s mouth with a damp washcloth.
- Try and minimize high sugar food and drinks to the child
- Regular visits to the dentist, and fluoride varnish application or use of dental sealants if recommended.
Treatment of early childhood caries
- In case early childhood caries is detected, dental fillings are the treatment of choice. This is a simple and painless procedure.
- In case the caries is detected late, or the child is suffering from pain, a root canal may be required. To prevent caries from progressing to this stage regular dental check-ups are important.
- If extensive dental work is required, in a large number of teeth, your dentist may recommend conscious sedation or sleep dentistry to make the child more comfortable.