Early childhood caries (ECC), often called “baby bottle tooth decay,” is an infectious oral disease that causes damage, pain and even long-term health effects. Beginning in infants as young as 6 months, ECC affects your child’s temporary teeth, gradually harming them.
What Causes It?
ECC is a result of frequent exposure of an infant’s teeth to sugar, often from drinking sugary substances such as juice out of a bottle. It primarily affects the infant’s upper front teeth, but any teeth can be affected. While baby bottles are a common cause, the primary caregiver may be another source of the initial bacterial attack. Cavity-causing bacteria can be passed along through the saliva by sharing utensils or “cleaning” a baby’s pacifier in your mouth.
Because ECC is the most common chronic infectious disease in children, it is important to know how to prevent ECC and the consequences of leaving it untreated.
- Don’t share saliva. Although you may not realize it, your mouth is filled with thousands of acid-producing bacteria. The acid dissolves the outer portion of teeth, resulting in cavities. This bacteria is usually spread by sharing utensils.
- Wipe your baby’s gums after feeding. This can be done with a damp, clean washcloth.
- Don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle. Make sure your baby finishes his or her bottle before bedtime, as this exposes teeth to more bacteria and poses a choking risk.
- Brush your baby’s teeth. After teeth emerge, you can gently brush your baby’s teeth with an infant’s toothbrush and a small amount of fluoride toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice).
- Don’t put sugary substances in your baby’s bottle. Fill an infant’s bottle only with breast milk or formula.
In the event that your child is affected by ECC, it is important to visit a dentist. Untreated, ECC can result in more than just pain. It affects speech, nutrition, ability to learn and even physical development. Although your baby’s teeth are temporary, dental health is essential to healthy permanent teeth, as baby teeth are necessary for saving space for the development of adult teeth.
Your Child’s First Dental Visit
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends scheduling your infant’s first visit to the dentist around 6 months of age. It is important to establish a regular dentist in the event of any decay or other oral health issues. After teeth emerge, it is recommended that children receive periodic fluoride varnish applications to protect tooth enamel.
This first visit may be slightly stressful both for parents and infants, but there are ways to help your appointment go smoothly.
- Schedule morning appointments. Children are often better rested and more cooperative at this time.
- Keep anxiety and concerns to yourself. If your child picks up on any negative emotions, he or she may become alarmed as well.
- Stay positive. Make this experience as enjoyable as possible for your child.