Protecting Your Family From Childhood Tooth Decay

We always want to do the best we can when it comes to our family’s health, but the amount of misinformation floating around out there sometimes makes it difficult to know the correct course of action to take. The occurrence of tooth decay in very young children has increased over the last several years, at least partially due to the prevalence of fruit juices and other sweet drinks being consumed by babies and toddlers, as well as infrequency of dental visits in the first few years of life.

Since baby teeth are replaced, why is early decay so detrimental?

Many people are under the impression that baby teeth aren’t all that important to a child’s development, since they eventually fall out and are replaced. In fact, decay and improper development of the baby teeth can have serious consequences for the health of adult teeth. Baby teeth (or milk teeth, as they are sometimes called) hold the space required for future adult teeth. Each baby tooth stays in place until the permanent tooth underneath is developed and ready to grow in. When a baby tooth becomes decayed and/or structurally damaged, the surrounding teeth can press in to the space left free by the decaying tooth or teeth. This can mean that the adult teeth grow out of place, possibly resulting in expensive orthodontic work.

Is fruit juice healthy for children?

Most fruit juices carry a hefty dose of added sugar- many carry just as much in a typical serving as a can of soda. Fruit juices also tend to be highly acidic; besides fruit being acidic itself, many juices have citric acid added to give a tangy flavor. Sugar and acid are two of the biggest culprits when it comes to tooth decay at any age. Even juices that say ‘no sugar added’ still carry all the sugar content of the fruit itself.

If you want to give your child fruit juices, allow them only at meals or during a limited amount of time during the day. It’s much better for teeth to be exposed to sugar and acidity for a short burst of time, rather than at intervals throughout the day.

Baby bottle tooth decay, or baby bottle mouth, is a syndrome that occurs in children who carry a bottle or spill-proof cup and sip on beverages all day and/or take a bottle to bed or naptime. Usually affecting the top upper teeth, baby bottle tooth decay happens when the front teeth are constantly bombarded with sugary beverages and become decayed and worn. Decay and improper development of the baby teeth can have serious consequences for the health of adult teeth.

What else puts a child at risk for early tooth decay?

Many children don’t have their first dental appointment until some or all of their teeth have grown in- often this is around two, and research indicates that in some areas of the country, up to twenty-five percent of kindergarten-age children have yet to see a dentist. The fact is that a baby should see a dentist when his or her first tooth grows in. Your dentist can check to make sure that the other teeth are in good shape and will be shortly following the first, as well as giving you some helpful tips on caring for your baby’s teeth while they are growing.