13:32 PM

How to Prevent the Gift of Cavities

Caregivers need to watch their mouths around children. I’m not talking about what they say—I’m talking about what they spread (cavities).

Most people don’t know that very young children can “catch” the bacteria that causes cavities. But they can.

Cavities (caries) are a bacterial infection. Now here’s a really interesting fact: babies most often get this bacteria from family members. How does a child get the bacteria? Most likely, it is through some form of exchange of saliva from an adult or another child in their lives.

Think about how this can happen. It can be through something as harmless as sharing a spoon, ‘cleaning’ the pacifier that fell on the floor in your mouth before returning it to the child, or biting off a piece of apple to share with a child. The bacteria in the adult’s mouth just found a pathway to the child.

Once in the child’s mouth, the cavity-causing bacteria cling to the surfaces of the teeth like a film. Your dentist calls this biofilm. Acids in the bacteria eat away at the enamel (the hard coating of the tooth), and can cause white spots. If you see these, they are early signs of cavities. Call your dentist! Untreated, the next step is a cavity (hole) in the enamel. If the infection is caught early, your dentist can remineralize and ‘heal’ the tooth—no drilling involved! This is most often done with a high concentration of fluoride.

Once cavity causing bacteria are in a child’s mouth, they are there for life. Caregivers have to be on top of what goes into the child’s mouth. Watch out for:

- Sugars and acids in foods and drinks – they encourage the cavity-causing bacteria to multiply. Did you know that the milk in a baby’s bottle contains sugars? Or that fruit juices, soda, sports and energy drinks are full of sugars and acids too? Starting when the child is an infant, wipe the inside of a baby’s mouth with a soft wash cloth after eating to reduce the acid attacks on the teeth.

- Be sure to only give water to baby at bedtime or naptime. Putting a child to bed with milk, juice or soda (all sugary and/or acidic drinks) is just feeding the bacteria and encouraging the start of cavities.

- Clean the child’s teeth every day. If the child is too young to brush his or her own teeth, wipe the teeth with a soft, clean, damp washcloth. As the child is able to cooperate, you can brush the teeth using a pea-sized dot of fluoride toothpaste. Once a child is 4 or 5, he or she can brush on his/her own with parental supervision. (Be sure the child spits out and does not swallow the toothpaste.) It is important to remove food from all the surfaces of the teeth every day so the bacteria can’t settle in and start the decay process.

Untreated, tooth decay can have serious, negative effects on a child’s physical and educational development. Mouth pain makes it difficult to eat a healthy diet, to learn to speak properly, and to concentrate in school. Untreated tooth decay in baby teeth can damage a child’s permanent teeth. Plain and simple, early tooth decay can quickly put kids at a lifelong disadvantage.

What can parents do? Taking care of your teeth improves your own oral health, and sets a good example for your child to follow. Make sure you visit your dentist regularly. Take your child for a first check-up at twelve months of age. The dentist will determine the child’s risk of developing dental disease. Follow a healthy diet and be sure to brush after every meal.

Taking care to reduce the risk of transmitting cavity-causing bacteria to children will better position them to fight off tooth decay as they grow.