Did you know that babies can suffer from tooth decay? Dental problems such as tooth decay and tooth cavity aren't just experienced by adults. A recent study with collected data between 2015-2016 revealed that over 43% of U.S. kids from the age of two have cavities resulting from tooth decay. For a two-year-old to have a cavity, it means the decay started while they were toddlers.
The primary teeth of a baby, also known as baby teeth, have thinner and softer enamel than that of adults. As such, when it's exposed to factors that cause tooth decay, the enamel is easily eaten away and results to dental caries, also known as baby bottle tooth decay, or nursing bottle caries.
Given that the child is bound to lose their baby teeth and grow permanent ones, you might ignore baby bottle tooth decay. By doing this, you’re setting up your child for complex dental problems when they grow up. It would be better to give the proper care early on to keep them strong and healthy.
So, is there something you can do to manage tooth decay in your baby? Luckily Yes. This article will guide you through what causes the decay, the signs of tooth decay in your baby, and the best solutions. Keep reading to learn more.
What Causes Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?
The tooth decay process in babies is the same as what happens in adults. When you eat or drink, naturally occurring bacteria found in the mouth feed on the sugar content in the food that you ate. The bacteria release an acid that weakens and damages the enamel causing tooth decay. If the situation isn't rectified on time, either by proper oral hygiene or visiting a dentist, the damage becomes a black-brown hole known as a cavity.
The process is similar among toddlers. In fact, this tooth decay is known as baby bottle tooth decay because babies are set to sleep while feeding on formula milk in a bottle. The milk can sometimes pool in the baby's mouth overnight. The milk contains lactose sugar, So, overnight, the bacteria feed on the lactose sugar, then release the acid which gradually eats away the enamel, causing tooth decay. Ideally, saliva helps to neutralize the acid, but saliva flow is low at night. Therefore, it doesn't help much.
The same happens when you feed your child with sugary food and drinks such as soda, candy, and fruit juices. Since it can be hard to tell tooth decay early, taking an infant to the dentist regularly helps you keep up with their dental health and manage any dental problems early.
Other causes of tooth decay in a toddler include:
- Pacifier- a pacifier collects a lot of food substances, bacteria, and germs. When you constantly give it to your child, especially without cleaning it properly, bacteria in the mouth feed on the food remains, and eventually the teeth start to decay.
- Sharing saliva with your baby- adults share their saliva when giving babies sloppy kisses, cleaning the pacifier by putting it in their mouth, and sharing utensils like spoons with their baby. Although it may look harmless, you may be causing oral problems to your child. When adults share their saliva with their children, they also share their bacteria. The bacteria could be causing decay and cavity, so the child automatically develops tooth decay.
- Fluoride inefficiency -Lack of enough fluoride that makes teeth strong and healthy can be another cause of tooth decay.
5 Signs Of Tooth Decay Among Toddlers
When detected early, tooth decay in toddlers can be reversed using a treatment performed by a dentist. However, you can hardly pick most of the signs of decay in the early stages. Most parents notice the decay when it's in advanced stages. At this point, tooth decay may not be reversible, and the treatment may be more intense and expensive.
For that reason, it's important to know some of the signs of tooth decay early. Make a habit of regularly inspecting your baby's teeth and look out for the following common signs
1. White Spots On The Teeth
This is one of the earliest signs of developing tooth decay. The chalky white spots occur near the gum line, especially on the upper front teeth. These spots are a sign that the child's enamel is beginning to break down. As a result, it's common for babies with these spots to experience tooth sensitivity. If the teeth aren't brushed and taken care of, the white spot gradually turns brown.
2. Discoloration Of The Teeth
As mentioned above, the teeth acquire a light brown color. This is a sign of more advanced tooth decay and the earliest sign of tooth cavity. Although the child's teeth may not hurt at the time, it's advised you visit a dentist as soon as you see the light brown discoloration.
3. Tooth Cavity
If you missed the discoloration, I bet you can't miss a tooth cavity on your child. Unfortunately, a tooth cavity may be a sign of severe tooth decay. Don't despair, though. A dentist could still help you save your child's dental health.
Early tooth cavities are light brown shallow holes. As they advance, they become deeper and turn black. The child may begin to complain of pain and discomfort in the area around the teeth. Moreover, with a severe cavity, the mild sensitivity due to the white spot becomes severe. That being the case, your child can't consume hot or cold drinks comfortably.
Toddlers express pain and discomfort by crying and being cranky. Accordingly, if your baby is being fussy, especially during feeding, you might want to visit a dentist to rule out the possibilities of tooth decay or cavity.
5. An Infection On The Teeth
When the toddler tooth decay isn’t detected early and left untreated, it may lead to an infection around the teeth. To determine an infection, look out for facial swelling on the child, puss coming from the mouth, fever, and pain. Contact your dentist right away if these symptoms persist.
Solutions For The Toddler's Tooth Decay
If you’re reading this article, chances are you're trying to prevent tooth decay in your little one, or you're looking for solutions for their decayed teeth. If you fall under the latter, don't worry because there are treatments for nursing tooth caries. According to research done by the National Institute of Dental Craniofacial Research, most toddler tooth decay is reversible.
The first step in seeking a solution is taking your baby to a dentist or oral hygiene professional. The dentist will inspect your child's teeth and present a diagnosis based on the following factors:
- The symptoms you’ll register, for example, pain
- History of your child's oral health
- A dental X-ray for a more accurate diagnosis determining the level of decay.
Once they have a diagnosis, they can proceed to the treatment process.
How Is Baby Bottle Carries Treated?
The method of treatment used on your toddler will depend on the severity of the tooth decay. For cases that are considered early stages or mild, the dentist may perform the following procedures:
Cleaning the teeth- the dentist will clean the teeth to remove plaque which contributes to the formation of the white spots. Unlike regular cleaning, professional cleaning thoroughly cleans between the ridges of teeth that are inaccessible by the ordinary toothbrush. Note that most tooth decay starts on these ridges since a lot of food is stuck there.
Advise you on oral hygiene- after the procedure, the dentist will recommend tips to ensure good dental hygiene in your child. Some of the recommendations include:
- Schedule a visit to the dentist every six months
- Avoid bottle-feeding your baby overnight
- Don't give your baby pacifiers
- Tips to help stop your child from sucking their thumb
- Unhealthy sugary food to avoid, such as candy and fruit juice
- Healthy foods to boost your child's dental health.
Fluoride treatments- dentist uses a high level of fluoride to strengthen the enamel during a fluoride treatment. An example of fluoride treatment is silver diamine fluoride (SDF).
In case of advanced tooth decay, here are advanced treatment options that you may have to choose from
Sealants: Dental sealants are an advanced treatment that uses a thin coating to prevent further tooth decay and cavities. The coating is placed on the chewing surface of the teeth to prevent food from getting stuck in there. If there's no stuck food, the bacteria have nothing to feed on, and they can't cause tooth decay.
Filling- this method is used to treat tooth decay that has advanced to a cavity. The decayed part is removed and filled with restoration material. The filling material used will depend on your dentist and how severe the decay is.
Extraction- since the baby's teeth are primary and will eventually grow permanent teeth, the specialist may recommend tooth extraction of the decayed teeth. This is a treatment option for advanced decay.
Note that before choosing a treatment option, you have to consult a dentist, and only the dentist is allowed to perform the procedures.
Wrap It Up
As you have learned today, even toddlers can get tooth decay. While it solicits a lot of concern, there's comfort in knowing that it's reversible through treatment. However, you can only reverse tooth decay if you catch it early. On that account, be sure to look for the signs discussed above to be able to remedy it early on. That said, it’s also recommended that you take your baby to a dentist every six months for a regular check-up. Keep in mind that the adage ‘prevention is better than cure,’ also applies in making sure that your toddler leads a tooth decay-free dental health.
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