From birth to early adulthood, your child's teeth, gums and jaws develop at a rapid pace. And, for the most part, nature takes its course without our help.
But tooth decay can derail that development. The result of bacterial acid eroding enamel, tooth decay is the top cause for premature primary tooth loss in children. One particular form, early childhood caries (ECC), can rapidly spread from one tooth to another.
Many parents assume prematurely losing teeth that are destined to fall out soon anyway is inconsequential. But primary teeth play a critical role in the proper eruption of permanent teeth, serving as both placeholders and guides for those teeth developing just below them in the gums. A permanent tooth without this guidance can erupt out of alignment to create a poor bite that may require future orthodontics.
Being proactive about tooth decay lessens that risk—and the best time to start is when the first teeth begin to erupt. That's when you should begin their regular dental visits sometime around their first birthday.
Dental visits are an important defense against tooth decay. Besides routine dental cleanings, your child's dentist can offer various preventive treatments like sealants to stop decay from forming in the biting surfaces of back molars or topically applied fluoride to strengthen tooth enamel.
Daily home care is just as important in the fight against tooth decay. Oral hygiene should be a part of your child's daily life even before teeth: It's a good habit to wipe an infant's gums with a clean cloth after nursing. As teeth arrive, oral hygiene turns to brushing and flossing—perhaps the best defense of all against dental disease.
It's also important to watch their intake of sugar, a prime food source for bacteria that produce harmful acid. Instead, encourage a "tooth-friendly" diet of whole foods to keep teeth and gums healthy.
Even if they do develop tooth decay, there are effective treatments to minimize any damage and preserve affected primary teeth until they've served their purpose. By adopting these prevention strategies and prompt treatment, you can stay ahead of this destructive disease.