Infant dental care: Preventing tooth decay early

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say that tooth decay effects one-quarter of American children between the ages of 2 and 5 and the American Dental Association (ADA) says Baby Bottle Tooth Decay is the most common form of tooth decay in infants and young children. What can you do to prevent it? Photo: Larry & Teddy (nee Schlueter) via Wikimedia

Silver Spring, MD, June 2, 2012 – We’ve all seen the famous high school chemistry experiment where a baby tooth is dropped into a glass of soda, and overnight it dissolves.  Not that you would give your baby soda in their bedtime bottle, but the demonstration does illustrate how susceptible baby teeth are to decay.

The thing about those teeth is that while they are not permanent, they do have to serve your child for many years before they are replaced by adult teeth. In an oral health bulletin published in 2011, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say that tooth decay effects one-quarter of American children between the ages of 2 and 5.  And, while milk may not have the erosive acids in it as soda does, it does contain sugar – lactose.  You may not think of lactose as the type of sugar that will rot teeth, but it can, and does for babies all around the world every year who aren’t given proper dental care.

The American Dental Association (ADA) says Baby Bottle Tooth Decay is the most common form of tooth decay in infants and young children. It is brought on by putting a baby to bed with a bottle or breastfeeding right before putting them down without first cleaning the teeth. The bacteria that feed on sugars is the primary culprit for tooth decay and creates colonies called biofilms that feed on the sugars and attack teeth. These bacteria can be passed from parent to child through saliva. If you put your baby’s spoon in your mouth to demonstrate how tasty a food is, you are passing that bacteria to your baby. When a baby falls to sleep with sugar containing liquid in his mouth, it pools around the teeth.

Putting baby to sleep with a bottle is the leading cause of infant tooth decay. AP photo/Dennis Farrell.


Some parents also like to “treat” their children by dipping a pacifier in sugar or honey. This puts high concentrations of sugars in direct contact with the teeth and gums and provide ample food for the bacteria to attack.

Prevention is the mantra when it comes to preventing tooth decay.  To help prevent decay, the ADA advises never putting a baby to bed with a bottle that contains anything other than water, making sure they finish any milk or juice bottles before they go to sleep, and only providing clean pacifiers that have not been dipped in sugary substances.

These may seem like common place suggestions, but with such strikingly high number of children with some degree if tooth decay, it is obvious that while simple, the solutions are not being followed.

The ADA provides guidelines for how to care for your baby’s teeth. Just like with any other habit, getting children in the habit of taking care of their teeth when they are very young, helps create good dental hygiene habits for the future. They recommend starting this hygiene practice early by wiping the babies gums after each feeding even before they get teeth. Once you’re baby’s teeth have started to come in, you should brush them gently using water. Toothpaste is generally not recommended before age 2 because very young children tend to want to swallow the sweet tasting substance rather than spit it out. You should also check with your dentist as to when they want to see your little one for the first time.  Some professionals are now saying they want to see infants within six months of the eruptions of the first tooth.

Primary, or baby teeth, may only be temporary, but teaching your child good oral hygeine skills early is important. Photo by Daniel Schwen.


Further, make sure you are setting a good example for good oral hygiene yourself.  To encourage your child to allow you to clean his teeth, let him see you brushing yours.  As of January 2011 the CDC said that tooth decay remains the most chronic disease in children between 6 and 11 years of age.  Getting your infant off on the right foot with good habits and good role models of dental hygiene will help keep your child from dreading his visits to the dentist in the future.


For additional information on preventing tooth decay in all age groups, visit the CDC’s guide to Using Fluoride to Prevent and Control Tooth Decay in the United States and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research’s guide for A Healthy Mouth for Your Baby.


Follow Brighid on Twitter at @BrighidMoret and receive updates when new columns post on Facebook. Read more about first time parenting issues in Parenting the First Time Through at The Communities at The Washington Times.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Brighid Moret

Brighid is a freelance writer and first time mother.  She holds an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins University.  Find her on Facebook @Brighid Moret


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