Tooth decay in infants and toddlers is often referred to as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay, or Early Childhood Caries. Children need strong, healthy teeth to chew their food, speak and have a good-looking smile. Their first teeth also help make sure their adult teeth come in correctly. It’s important to start infants off with good oral care to help protect their teeth for decades to come.
You can help prevent your baby from getting cavities or developing what is called Baby Bottle Tooth Decay or Early Childhood Caries, by beginning an oral hygiene routine within the first few days after birth. Start by cleaning your baby’s mouth by wiping the gums with a clean gauze pad. This helps removes plaque that can harm erupting teeth. When your child's teeth begin to come in, brush them gently with a child's size toothbrush and a small amount of fluoride toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice. For bottle feedings, place only formula, milk or breast milk inside and avoid using sugary beverages such as juice or soda. Infants should finish their bedtime and naptime bottle before going to bed.
Accidents can happen anywhere, anytime. Knowing how to handle a dental emergency can mean the difference between saving and losing your child’s permanent tooth. For all dental emergencies, it’s important to take your child to the dentist or an emergency room as soon as possible.
Here are some tips if your child experiences a common dental emergency:
Sucking is a natural reflex and infants and young children may suck on thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects. It may help them relax or make them feel safe or happy. Most children stop sucking by age 4. If your child continues to thumb suck that after the permanent teeth have come in, it can cause problems with tooth alignment and your child’s bite. The frequency, duration and intensity of a habit will determine whether or not dental problems may result. Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouths are less likely to have difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs. If you are worried about your child’s sucking habits, talk to your dentist or consult your child's pediatrician.
Space maintainers help “hold space” for permanent teeth. Your child may need one if he or she loses a baby tooth prematurely, before the permanent tooth is ready to erupt. If a primary tooth is lost too early, adult teeth can erupt into the empty space instead of where they should be. When more adult teeth are ready to come into the mouth, there may not be enough room for them because of the lost space. To prevent this from happening, the dentist may recommend a space maintainer to hold open the space left by the missing tooth.
Sealants are a fast and easy way of protecting your child’s teeth that act as barriers to cavity-prone areas. They are usually applied to the chewing surfaces of back teeth and sometimes used to cover deep pits and grooves. Sealing a tooth is fast and there is virtually no discomfort. As long as the sealant remains intact, the tooth surface will be protected from decay. Sealants hold up well under the force of normal chewing but may have to be reapplied if needed. Both primary and permanent teeth can benefit from sealants. Ask your dentist if sealants will help your child.
Mouthguards can help protect your child from a dental emergency. They should be worn whenever your child is participating in sports and recreational activities. Mouthguards cushion blows that would otherwise cause broken teeth, injuries to the lips and face and sometimes even jaw fractures. If your child participates in such pastimes, ask your dentist about custom-fitted mouth protectors.
Malocclusion, or bad bite, is a condition in which the teeth are crowded, crooked or out of alignment, or the jaws don’t meet properly. This may become particularly noticeable between the ages of 6 and 12, when a child’s permanent teeth are coming in. If not treated early, a bad bite can make it difficult to keep teeth and gums clean where teeth are crooked or crowded, increasing the risk for cavities and gum disease.
Bad bites can also:
Anesthesia and Sedation
Your dentist might recommend that your child be administered anesthesia or sedation to relax them in order to safely complete some dental procedure.