Preventing early childhood cavities

Base Info

Preventing early childhood cavities

by: Capt. Jon C. Federspiel | .
51st Dental Squadron | .
published: March 07, 2014

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Children under the age of 5 sometimes develop cavities, known as early childhood cavities.

Cavities are caused by a type of bacteria called streptococcus mutans, which accumulates on the surfaces of baby teeth and feeds off the sugars that are introduced into the mouth. The sugars and the bacteria lead to acid formation, which causes pain, gum and jaw infections, tooth decay, premature tooth loss (which may cause crooked adult teeth down the road) and delayed physical development.

To better protect your child from ECC, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the causes of this condition. SM, the bacteria responsible for ECC, can be spread from one person to another. The most common way children get introduced to the bacteria is when parents clean a spoon or pacifier with their mouth and then place it into their children's mouth. We may think we are "cleaning" these items with our saliva, but in reality, we are introducing harmful bacteria into children's mouths at too young of an age.

Another cause of ECC is sugar. Sugar drives SM and causes an acidic environment in the mouth, which increases the risk of cavities. Therefore, diets high in sugar lead to more tooth decay. As a parent, keep in mind that even seemingly harmless acts, such as dipping their pacifier in honey, giving your child sugary fruit juices or putting your child to sleep with a bottle of milk can greatly increase the risk for ECC.

The good news is that ECC is preventable and you can play a large role in helping your child's oral health by following these tips:

  • Refrain from any activity that can potentially introduce your saliva into the baby's mouth, like cleaning a pacifier with your mouth or sharing a kitchen utensil.
  • Never allow a child to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, juice or other sweetened liquids. Water is the only safe liquid to give to your baby at bedtime.
  • Encourage weaning from a bottle and/or toddler cup as soon as the child can drink from a normal cup.
  • Limit the amount of sugary beverages you give your child. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 4 to 6 ounces of fruit juice per day for children aged 1 to 6.
  • After each feeding, wipe the baby's gums and teeth with a damp cloth. This will help get rid of harmful sugars and bacteria.
  • At the first signs of tooth growth, clean the baby's teeth with an infant toothbrush and water and make an appointment with a dentist. It is never too early to establish good, lifelong oral hygiene habits.
  • Help your child brush their teeth until they are at least 6 years old and are able to properly remove plaque and food particles themselves.

These are only a few suggestions on how to prevent ECC. For more information, contact the 51st Dental Squadron at 784-2108. We are here to help!

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