PDA Stresses the Importance of Caring For Your Child’s Baby Teeth

Americans of all ages continue to experience improvements in their oral health. However, decay in baby teeth increased from 24 percent to 28 percent among children two to five years of age, according to a recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which compared data collected in 1999-2004 to data gathered 10 years earlier.

To reverse this trend, the Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) reminds parents that good oral hygiene must begin very early in a baby’s life.

As soon as baby teeth appear, they are subject to baby bottle tooth decay, a condition caused by frequent exposure to sugary liquids, such as milk, formula and juice. Each time an infant drinks sugary liquids, acid attacks the teeth for at least 20 minutes, and after multiple attacks, the teeth are susceptible to decay.

“Decay is a result of an infection in the mouth,” said Dr. Richard Galeone, a PDA member and pediatric dentist from Lansdale. “There are specific types of bacteria that ingest carbohydrates and then produce acids, which eat a hole in a tooth (the cavity). The cavity then serves as an incubator for the production of more of those bacteria.”

As a parent or caregiver, there are many things you can do to prevent decay from occurring, including:

  • Starting from birth, wipe the baby’s gums with a soft wet cloth or a soft-bristle infant toothbrush and water, especially after each feeding.
  • Begin brushing when the first tooth erupts. Clean and massage gums in areas that remain toothless.
  • Never allow the baby to fall asleep with a bottle containing sugary liquids. “Going to bed with anything other than water is a primary cause of tooth decay,” said Dr. Galeone.
  • Never give the baby a pacifier dipped in sweet liquids.
  • Visit a pediatric dentist when the first tooth erupts between six to 12 months of age, and continue regular visits. Regular visits will not only help detect possible dental problems in their early stages, but also will make the child more comfortable in the dental chair for subsequent visits. “If parents themselves are fearful, they should try not to pass this feeling along to their child,” said Dr. Galeone. “They should not make a BIG deal of the visit, but should talk of it in a calm, matter-of-fact way.”
  • Encourage your child to drink from a cup, not a bottle, around their first birthday.
  • Begin flossing when all baby teeth have erupted, typically by age two. Also by two years of age, brush your toddler’s teeth twice a day, preferably after breakfast and before bedtime. This should be done under the supervision of an adult to ensure that the child does not swallow the toothpaste.
  • Fluoride supplementation should begin as soon as recommended by the child’s pediatrician or pediatric dentist.
  • Establish healthy eating habits for your child. Offer fruits and vegetables for a snack instead of sugary sweets.

“The baby teeth are important for many reasons including proper chewing for healthy digestion, freedom from infection and pain, proper speech development, a happy and healthy smile and for holding the space for the future permanent teeth,” said Dr. Galeone. “Good habits are just as hard to break as bad habits. If proper oral hygiene is taught at a young age, it will probably stay with the person for their whole life.”

View more information about caring for your child's baby teeth.

About the Pennsylvania Dental Association
Founded in 1868, the Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) is comprised of approximately 6,000 member dentists. It is a constituency of the American Dental Association (ADA), the largest and oldest national dental society in the world. PDA’s mission is to improve the public health, promote the art and science of dentistry and represent the interests of its member dentists and their patients. PDA is the voice of dentistry in Pennsylvania. Learn more about PDA.