Dental caries (also known as tooth decay or cavities) is the most common disease of childhood. Tooth decay is an infectious disease, meaning that it is caused by bacteria that can be spread between people. The bacteria stick to teeth and feed on what you eat, especially sugars and cooked starch (pasta, bread, rice, potatoes, etc.). Very soon after you eat or drink, the bacteria start making acid from the sugars and starch. This acid is what can cause cavities.
Early childhood caries (ECC), also known as baby bottle tooth decay, is a form of tooth decay that happens in the baby teeth of preschool-age children from birth to 71 months (almost 6 years) of age. This tooth decay includes cavities, missing teeth (due to cavities), and filled teeth. ECC can start as soon as teeth appear in a baby's mouth. ECC can spread quickly and can cause lasting problems for a child's oral and general health as well as social and intellectual development. Since these bacteria can pass from mother to baby, it's important for parents, including expectant parents, to take care of their own dental health at home and by visiting a dentist.
Example of moderate ECC
Fortunately, tooth decay and especially early childhood decay is mostly preventable. Here are some steps that parents can take to provide their child with a lifetime of healthy smiles:
- Clean baby’s gums and teeth with a wet washcloth or infant finger toothbrush with fluoride-free gel after every feeding.
- Provide only water in the bedtime bottle. Milk, juice or other beverages bathe the teeth in sugar and can cause cavities.
- Since Shasta County’s water is not fluoridated, supplementing with fluoride is recommended starting at 6-months of age. Talk to your child's doctor or dentist about getting a prescription for fluoride supplements.
- The American Dental Association recommends a dental visit by the age of 1.
- Begin brushing your child’s teeth with fluoride toothpaste at around age 2 or when your child is able to spit out toothpaste.
- Limit the number of times a day your child snacks on sweet foods and beverages.
- When your child’s permanent molars erupt, ask your dentist about dental sealants.
For a list of dentists who accept Medi-Cal, see here.
Where can I get more information about preventing tooth decay in babies, young children, and other ages?
References: American Dental Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, California Dental Association