Everyone loves the sweet taste of sugar, and that includes neonates and toddlers. It takes your awareness of sugar's harmful effects on your child's teeth to resist their urge to consume it continuously. One of these harmful effects is early childhood caries. This article is for you if you've tried to cut your child off every sugar treat and even ensured they brushed twice daily but still find them developing caries.
Sit tight as we dive into some important factors that increase your child's chances of developing caries and how to prevent them.
What are Early Childhood Caries?
Early Childhood Caries refers to decayed teeth in a child under six years of age. Either the child's tooth recently started showing unusual colors and signs of decay, or the child has lost or filled a tooth; it's known to be early childhood caries. At the first appearance in a child, you find it as whitish spots along the gum line.
It mostly stays on the child's upper front teeth but might also spread onto other teeth. Initially, you might find it hard to locate the tooth decay, as it shows up on children's teeth as tiny white or brown spots. After a while, these spots develop into little holes (cavities). If left unchecked, the disease eats up almost the entire tooth crown( the visible portion). The child is then left with a small tooth fragment above the gumline.
Childhood Caries is a progressive disease. Hence, intervening and getting treatment quickly is vital to prevent further complications. In times past, people once often referred to childhood caries as "nursing caries," "nursing bottle caries," or "baby bottle tooth decay" due to the strong link between caries in young kids and some bottle-feeding and nursing practices.
However, studies have found that the root of early childhood caries goes deeper than nursing practices. Therefore, the disease got the name "early childhood caries," as it better depicts the multiple factors that cause the disease.
Causes of Early Childhood Caries
As mentioned earlier, the factors determining if a child will develop caries are numerous, with many still under research today. However, here are a few important and established ones we can explore and consequently prevent:
Oral Bacterial Colonization
Unlike what most mums think, tooth decay isn't caused by a direct influence of sugar. Rather, the decay is a result of a serious transmissible infection in the child's mouth. Some of the said bacteria kickstart the infection, while another bacteria in the dental plaque sees the disease's progression and the formation of caries lesions.
These bacteria produce acid that erodes the enamel (the hard white portion of teeth) and makes it weaker, eventually leading to cavity development. How and why do these notorious bacteria thrive in our mouths? They feed on sugar! So, as long as your child takes sweet treats or general carbs that break down into glucose, your bacteria friends feed on them to grow and multiply, breaking the sugar down into deleterious acidic waste products.
During a child's first 12-24 months, they have close contact with their mother's mouth (and saliva) and majorly live off breast milk. Poor oral hygiene and frequent sugar consumption increase the chances of acquiring dental caries on the mother's part. For children, saliva can also come from friends. Frequent contact with infected saliva predisposes a healthy child to early childhood caries.
An easy and sure way to avoid this problem is to keep your child away from people with untreated caries. You can get special utensils for your child, not to be shared with anyone. And also, keep your child from using others'. Another brilliant step you can take would be to clean toys other kids have placed in their mouths before giving your child access to them.
From the explanation above, it shouldn't be surprising to see that a child's chances of developing dental caries increase with the intake of snacks and sugary food. However, there's more to learn about the link between food and childhood caries. Here are a few key points many parents find interesting:
It's more than the sugary foods
Much more than obvious sugar-heavy drinks and snacks, caries-causing bacteria also feed on food containing fermentable carbohydrates — those that break down into sugar in your child's mouth. These kinds of food are mostly part of our everyday diet — potato chips, bread, rice, crackers, name it!
Frequency of sugar consumption or amount?
Did you know that a bowl of ice cream consumed in one sitting does less harm to the teeth than intermittent chocolate bars chewed throughout the day? When it comes to feeding the notorious cavity-causing bacteria, they are more satisfied with consistent access to sugar (no matter how little) for an extended period. Their favorite? Sticky sugar foods like toffee and raisins.
Because, unlike ice cream or yogurt that easily washes off your child's mouth, these remain there for their continual nourishment. Studies have also proven this fact. Due to this discovery, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry advises against serving sugary drinks like fruit juice or chocolate tea to children in sippy cups and bottles.
Unlike an open cup they can gulp in at once, sippy cups give them a chance to sip the drink slowly for an extended period. The cavity-causing bacteria thrive, release more acid, and thus, affect more damage to their teeth.
Babies are better without bottles at night
It might seem your baby won't sleep without something to suck on at night. You'd do better for them by keeping bottles away from them before and during sleep. Firstly, when you put your baby to bed with a bottle of juice or drink, the sugary liquid swirls around the upper front teeth for most of the night, causing a quick buildup of caries in those teeth.
Secondly, the bottle held in the mouth obstructs the flow of your toddler's natural tooth cleanser, saliva.
Dental Enamel Defects
Due to hereditary or environmental disorders like low birth weight or dental trauma, some children may be more prone to developing enamel defects such as enamel hypoplasia. The enamel is the hard outer layer of the tooth that serves to protect it. The teeth are more vulnerable to caries-causing bacteria with naturally weak enamel.
Pediatric dentists are experts at diagnosing what kind of disorder your child might have and developing an effective plan to lower the risk of caries.
Childhood caries show up when your child's teeth have continuous contact with sugary food or fermentable carbohydrate for an extended period. This proximity may arise from regular intake of such food, which gives cavity-causing bacteria the chance to grow, multiply, and release corrosive acid into your child's teeth.
Fortunately, childhood dental caries aren't permanent. With the help of a pediatric dentist, your child can recover from caries to their strong and shiny teeth in no time. If you need more guidance or would love to speak with a professional pediatric dentist about childhood caries, our experts at Guelph Family Dentistry would love to be of help.
Published by Samantha Brown