Did you know that tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease? It's 5 times more common than asthma, 4 times more common than early childhood obesity, and 20 times more common than diabetes. What separates dental decay from other chronic illnesses is that it's almost 100% preventable!
Your child becomes at risk for cavities the moment the first tooth erupts, which is why establishing healthy habits from a young age is so important. Consistency is the key! Just like all new experiences, your baby may be fussy or uncooperative when you first begin cleaning his teeth, but will soon accept that this is part of daily life, just like changing diapers and taking a bath.
A special note about bottle and breastfeeding:
One of the most devastating dental conditions found in infants in toddlers is known as Baby Bottle Decay - this happens when teeth are bathed in the sugars of breastmilk and formula for an extended period of time, such as throughout the night while sleeping or children who tend to "graze" throughout the day. Liquids coat all tooth surfaces during feeding, which causes multiple teeth to break down and decay at once. This requires general anesthesia and the placement of multiple crowns to restore dental health. Without treatment, teeth deteriorate quickly, cause pain, and are at high risk for infection. Both bottle-fed and breast-fed babies are at risk of developing this condition.
To avoid Baby Bottle Decay, our pediatric dentists recommend these tips:
- Wipe your baby's teeth and mouth clean with damp cloth after every feeding.
- Do not add sweetener, flavoring, or thickeners to your child's drinks.
- If your pediatrician recommends additives specific to your child's health needs, make sure you wipe the mouth clean after every feeding.
- Never put your baby to bed with a cup of milk, juice, or formula. Do not allow your child to fall asleep at the breast or breast/bottle feed at will throughout the night.
- This tip is easier said than done! Check out this article from Live Love Sleep on how to establish a healthy nighttime routine.
- Establish set feeding times to avoid grazing throughout the day. Limit milk and juice intake to mealtimes only and give water in between meals.
- Limit your child's sugar intake. Once of the sneakiest forms of sugar is 100% fruit juice, which has a higher amount of sugar than eating the fruit itself. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, follow these guidelines:
- No more than 4 ounces of 100% fruit juice a day for children ages 1 through 3 years
- 4 to 6 ounces for children ages 4 through 6
- 8 ounces for children ages 7 through 14.
- Do not give fruit juice to infants under 1 year old.
Whatever your child's age, the best day to start a healthy habit is today! If your child is due for a dental check-up, don't delay in scheduling. Regular dental care is an excellent opportunity for your dentist to coach you on creating healthy habits specific to your child.