In honor of National Childhood Dental Health Month, I have decided to partner with my good friend and pediatric dentist, Chris Pham, DDS, to bring you a series of posts about dental health. For our first post, we will discuss taking care of baby teeth. Why do baby teeth need to be cared for?
As we always say in pediatrics, babies and children are NOT just little adults. Dr. Pham says, “They are not just small versions of us. Their biology is different. Their eating habits are different. Their compliance is very different. The saliva is plentiful and different. They are just plain different. So are their teeth! Their teeth are also smaller with less defenses so their teeth can succumb to decay faster.” Because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, preventing decay in children starts in infancy. It is just as important to care for the non-permanent teeth as it is for the permanent teeth, even though they eventually fall out. “The last baby tooth will stick around until age 12 so you want to make sure all of your child’s teeth are healthy and pain free during that time. Kids need to be able to eat, sleep and concentrate in school without the distraction of painful teeth.” You might not get around to diligently brushing and flossing wiggly little ones twice per day, but you don’t want to ignore their teeth either.
What are cavities?
Dr. Pham describes cavities this way: “At the biological level, cavities are caused by bacteria, which feed on sugar left behind in your mouth. Those nasty little bugs go on to digest the sugar and then “go potty” on the teeth in hard to clean spots. It’s this process, that hurts teeth. The acid byproduct dissolves teeth and makes them soft and leads to holes, which you eventually see, on the teeth. The holes are problematic because they invite other sugar bugs allowing them to expand their conquests. The holes get bigger and your enamel (the white part of your teeth) starts to change color and break away. Sensitivity may be the first symptom, but in children, it’s not a reliable indicator. They respond to pain differently than adults and it may not be obvious that something is wrong until it is too late. If left untreated or unnoticed, these areas of decay may develop into nerve attacks within the tooth, leading to infection.”
How can you prevent cavities in baby teeth?
Start cleaning your baby’s teeth as soon as they appear. (For more on tooth eruption and teething, click here.) It’s okay to use a smear of fluoride containing toothpaste on baby teeth, even before your child is able to spit it out. Aim for brushing at least before bed, after your baby’s last nursing or bottle and be prepared to stop bottle use after age 1 year. Do not give your baby any juice or added sugars in their diet, especially chewy sugar like fruit snacks. These get stuck in between the teeth, increasing the risk of cavities in those hard to reach areas. Also, avoid licking a dropped pacifier for your baby because the bacteria in your mouth that causes cavities will get transferred to your baby. Finally, make sure to schedule a dentist visit with a pediatric dentist like Dr. Pham to get started on a lifetime of good dental hygiene.
Look for our next post about how to care for teeth in your older child!
Dr. Pham is a pediatric dentist in San Diego and owner of 3 pediatric dental practices. He and his partners have created friendly environments so kids of all ages feel comfortable at the dentist.