Denver, CO 80209
It can be quite a shock to parents to hear that their son or daughter has a cavity on a brand new baby tooth. “The tooth just grew in, how could he have a cavity if it was under the gum?” Even though teeth seem like they are 100% protected under the gums, prolonged exposure to sugars and bacteria can cause damage to the teeth. Early childhood caries, or ECE, is a disease caused by severe tooth decay. Other names for the condition include “baby bottle caries” or “bottle rot” because it’s often seen in children who are put to bed with a bottle.
ECE is characterized extreme tooth decay in young children. Often, when parents put their infants and toddlers to sleep with a bottle of milk, breast milk, or formula, they don’t realize they are sending their kids to bed with a sugary drink. Milk sugar, better known as lactose, is made up of two different types of sugar molecules. Although most don’t call milk a “sugary drink” in comparison to juices and sodas, it’s still a good food source for bacteria. As the child drinks the milk in his crib or bed as he falls asleep, some of that milk will likely pool in his cheeks or near his throat. That liquid becomes a breeding ground for the bacteria that cause cavities. Even if the child’s teeth haven’t grown in yet, they can still get cavities!
An important first step is to never send your child to be with a bottle full of anything but water. The progression of ECE is certainly more severe in children who frequently drink juices and the like, especially around bedtime. If you must give your child something to take with them to sleep, opt for water instead of something with sugar. Another great way to protect against ECE is to promote healthy teeth brushing habits. This can start even before a baby’s first tooth comes in. Using a toothbrush in a baby’s mouth is too harsh, but gently wiping the gums with a wet washcloth or piece of gauze after a feeding removes some of that cavity-causing sugar and bacteria.
A final piece of advice is to bring your child to the dentist before he or she turns 1 year old. Dr. Carter and her staff love working with little ones. If your family is more comfortable working with a pediatric dentist, Dr. Carter is happy to make a recommendation!