Tooth decay in baby teeth: What to do about it?

You might think that your child’s milk teeth are not important, as they will fall off after some time. Well, baby teeth help your child to chew and also play a role in speech development. They are also crucial in the growth of healthy teeth when they grow up. So, if your little one has baby tooth decay, it will affect their oral health in the future too. According to the World Health Organization, dental caries, which we call tooth decay or dental cavities, is a major public health problem across the globe. It is the most prevalent condition that is included in the 2015 Global Burden of Disease Study. It ranks 12th for baby teeth, with 560 million children. Read on to find out the causes of baby tooth decay and its treatment.

What is baby tooth decay?

Tooth decay in baby teeth is also known as baby bottle tooth decay or early childhood caries or nursing bottle caries, which is basically the medical word for cavities or holes in teeth. Dr Garima Yadav, Head of Dental Department at Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, says children of any age can get cavities, but they form faster in baby teeth than in adult tooth (permanent teeth). They can start to develop as soon as baby teeth appear which is usually between 6 months to one year of age.

baby eating
Baby tooth decay can be prevented. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

What causes baby tooth decay?

Many mothers send their babies to bed with a bottle of milk. It’s not a good habit as it can lead to tooth decay. Here are some reasons for tooth decay:

1. Sugar

Cavities are caused by sugar and a bacteria that lives in the mouth. Bacteria turns sugar (which is found in food, drinks and breast milk) into an acid that can damage or eat the outer layer of the teeth called enamel, explains the expert.

2. Thin enamel

Enamel of baby teeth happens to be way thinner than what adults have. So, it is easy for bacteria to cause cavities.

3. Less saliva

Saliva helps wash away the acid that gets formed by bacteria. But if there is less saliva, there are more chances of getting cavities, the expert tells Health Shots.

Also read: These 9 habits can create trouble for your baby’s milk teeth

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Ways to prevent baby tooth decay

Instead of letting your child go through the pain of having tooth decay, Dr Yadav says it is better to prevent cavities from happening. Here is how to prevent cavities:

• Clean your baby’s teeth, gums and tongue at least twice every day, using a clean wet cloth or sterile cotton after feeding and at bedtime.
• Clean your baby’s teeth and gums after giving medicines as they also have sugar.
• Use a bottle only during feeding time. Make sure not to use a milk bottle as a pacifier.
• Do not put baby to bed with a milk bottle in mouth.
• Avoid giving sugary drinks and juice, especially between meals.
• Avoid giving sticky snacks or chocolates that stick on teeth and stay for a long time.
• Start brushing the baby teeth as soon as the first one appears.
• Use fluoride toothpaste for children.
• Visit your dentist regularly for early detection of cavities.

baby with a spoon
Infected tooth is generally removed in case of tooth decay. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

How to treat tooth decay in babies?

When it comes to treatment of baby tooth decay, there are many options.

1. Fillers

If detected early, healthy teeth can be maintained. The dentist will remove the infected part and fill it with inert materials, says the expert.

2. Pulpotomy

If cavities reach the nerve then a specialised procedure is done to save the tooth. It is called pulpotomy that usually require two to three sittings to clean the roots and fill with inert materials.

3. Crowns

Crowns are needed in some cases to restore aesthetics as well as well functioning of the tooth.

4. Extraction

In severely infected cases, extraction has to be performed, depending on age of the child and condition of the tooth.

5. Fluoride application

If the cavity problem just started, fluoride can be used. It is applied by the dentist at an early age so that the enamel becomes more resistant when it comes to the action of acids.

As a parent, focus on your child’s dental health so that there is no place for cavities.

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