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Preventing Toddler Tooth Decay

Preventing tooth decay in toddlers can help them later in life.

It’s estimated that by age four almost 25% of children have, or have had, a cavity. Tooth decay occurs when bacteria in the mouth fed by sugar, flourish and eat away the enamel of the teeth. Poor brushing habits and a sugary diet can contribute to tooth decay.

Tooth decay in toddlers is a very real problem because they lack the coordination to brush their teeth thoroughly on their own. Some toddlers are picky eaters and these self-imposed dietary restrictions can create a limited diet full of starchy, sugary foods.

Here are some tips to prevent early childhood tooth decay:

  • Have your baby’s mouth examined when their first tooth erupts or by their first birthday. Your child’s dentist and hygienist are trained to look for early indicators of tooth decay and can guide parents with nutrition help and which tools are best to clean your child’s teeth.
  • Start cleaning your infant’s mouth after each feeding by wiping gums with a soft cloth.
  • Don’t let your baby or toddler go to bed with a bottle, a sippy cup of juice, or milk. Sugars bathe the teeth and, if left to sit all night, can cause baby bottle tooth decay.
  • Try to limit foods that are acidic, starchy, sticky, or sugary. Some examples are oranges, soft cheeses, fruit snacks, and cookies. While they can all be enjoyed in moderation, these foods can erode tooth enamel or stick to teeth, allowing the bacteria-eating sugar to eat through tooth enamel.
  • Help your child brush their teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush specially made for a child’s smaller mouth. You should help them brush twice a day for two minutes while holding the brush at a 45-degree angle.
  • Avoid using a fluoridated toothpaste until they are two years old or able to spit without swallowing the toothpaste. Children under two should use a rice-sized strip of toothpaste. For older children, a pea-sized amount is appropriate.

What do you do if, despite your best efforts, your child develops a cavity?

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends restoring the tooth with a filling or a small crown and waiting for the tooth to fall out on schedule. This will prevent the bacteria from spreading to other teeth, growing decay on an unerupted tooth, or causing an infection called gingivitis.

A severely decayed tooth may have to be extracted, but this is avoided if possible because baby teeth hold the place for unerupted adult teeth and help the jaw develop in its proper position.

As a parent, you’re laying the groundwork for your child’s oral hygiene habits for the rest of their life. Establishing good oral health habits at an early age will prevent tooth decay in their baby teeth and the habits your child learns will stick with them throughout their life.

With a little guidance and attention, you can help your child go from childhood to adolescence without ever hearing the buzz of a dentist’s drill.

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