Parents want to keep their young children healthy and establish habits that will protect them for life. Dental care is among the essential habits to ensure good health. Preventing early childhood tooth decay lowers a child’s risk of developing dental caries later. The process begins well before a child’s first birthday and includes an early first visit to the dentist.
What Is Early Childhood Tooth Decay?
Early childhood tooth decay is also known as baby bottle mouth and nursing baby syndrome. An official definition of early childhood caries (ECC) comes from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (APD) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). A child under age six with decay in at least one baby tooth has ECC.
Why Is It Important to Keep Young Children’s Teeth Clean?
Baby teeth are not permanent and will eventually be replaced by adult teeth, but keeping them healthy is still important. Children whose primary teeth become decayed have three times more risk of developing tooth decay in their adult teeth. Tooth decay can lead to pain and irritability, and even harmful infections.
It can cause the need for more serious treatment than a simple visit to the dentist. This is not only inconvenient, but also expensive. A visit to the hospital emergency room can end up costing ten times the amount than the cost would have been for preventive care.
Tips to Prevent Baby Bottle Mouth
Infants who are younger than 12 months should have their mouths wiped with a clean, moistened washcloth after each meal. Once children reach 1 year of age, parents can brush their mouths gently twice a day, preferably after breakfast and before bed. Children should not be permitted to swallow toothpaste.
These are some additional tips for preventing baby bottle syndrome.
- Find out whether local drinking water is fluoridated. If not, a dentist may recommend a fluoride rinse to strengthen teeth.
- Never let children go to bed with a bottle. The sugars are prime feed for bacteria that generate acids that wear away at tooth enamel and lead to dental caries.
- Only allow children to have a bottle at meals. A pacifier is a better alternative between meals.
- Encourage children to use a sippy cup as soon as possible after age 12 months to reduce the use of a bottle.
Food Choices for Preventing Early Childhood Tooth Decay
As with adults, the diets of young children can affect their risk of developing tooth decay. Limiting certain foods while emphasizing milk and other nutritious choices can help keep teeth healthy. The following foods and beverages can increase the risk of tooth decay.
- Sugar water and soft drinks in a bottle.
- Juice in a bottle – offer it only diluted half and half with water in a sippy cup to encourage children to graduate.
- Sugary foods, especially between meals.
- Sticky foods, such as gummies and fruit roll-ups.
When to Schedule the First Dental Visit
The best time to schedule the first dental visit is around the infant’s first birthday. The first tooth usually appears near this time. From that time, the dentist can monitor each new primary tooth to make sure they stay healthy. The dental visit can also:
- Give parents the chance to ask questions.
- Allow the dentist to show proper brushing technique.
- Lower the risk of future tooth decay.
- Lead to detection of any current tooth decay.
- Establish the habit of going to the dentist.
- Lead to dental sealants and fluoride rinses to reduce the risk of tooth decay.
Age Most Children Get Their Baby Teeth.
- Lower central incisor at 6-10 months.
- Upper central incisor at 8-12 months.
- Upper lateral incisor at 9-13 months.
- Lower lateral incisor at 10-16 months.
- Upper first molar at 13-19 months.
- Lower first molar at 14-18 months.
- Upper canine at 16-22 months.
- Lower canine at 17-23 months.
- Lower second molar at 23-31 months.
- Upper second molar at 25-33 months.
How to Make the First Dental Visit a Positive Experience
The following tips can help parents turn the first dental visit into a positive experience.
- Keep anxiety from young children so they do not get nervous about going to the dentist.
- Do not use a trip to the dentist as punishment. Instead, act as though it is an exciting event that you will both enjoy.
- Never bribe a child to visit the dentist. Children should learn that going to the dentist is a normal activity that is not to be dreaded.
- Schedule the appointment for a time when the child is most likely to be rested and able to cooperate. For most children, that is in the morning.
- Go to a dentist whose office is experienced in caring for young children. Staff may be better prepared and there may be more child-friendly accommodations, such as toys and kids’ books in the waiting room.
Good oral health starts in infancy. Parents can protect against tooth decay and guard against baby bottle mouth by ensuring healthy eating habits and proper oral care. The child’s first visit to the dentist can help set the stage for a lifetime of keeping teeth healthy. Schedule your Holladay, Utah pediatric dentist appointment with Dr. Rasch today!