Preventing tooth decay in young children

Before you know it, your baby has teeth! But it turns out that those beautiful new teeth painstakingly working their way through your baby’s gums are already at risk of tooth decay as soon as they appear. You may hear lots of advice from other parents about using bottles and sippy cups before your child can drink from a regular cup.

Jade Elliott spoke with  Dr. Hans Reinemer, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and a pediatric dentist from Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital about how bottles and cups can affect your child’s teeth.

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How Can Bottles Lead to Tooth Decay?

One of the risk factors for early childhood tooth decay (sometimes called baby bottle tooth decay or nursing decay) is frequent and prolonged exposure of a baby’s teeth to liquids, such as fruit juice, milk or formula, which all contain sugar.

Tooth decay can occur when a baby is put to bed with a bottle, or allowed at-will access to a bottle or sippy cup. Infants under one should finish their naptime or bedtime bottle before going to bed. Encourage your children to drink from a cup by their first birthday.

What About Sippy Cups?

Many training cups, also called sippy or tippy cups, are available in stores. Many are no-spill cups, which are essentially baby bottles in disguise. No-spill cups include a valve beneath the spout to stop spills. However, cups with valves do not allow your child to sip. Instead the child gets liquid by sucking on the cup, much like a baby bottle. This practice defeats the purpose of using a training cup, as it prevents the child from learning to sip.

Don’t let your child carry the training cup around. Toddlers are often unsteady on their feet. They take an unnecessary risk if they try to walk and drink at the same time. Falling while drinking from a cup has the potential to injure the mouth.

A training cup should be used temporarily. Once your child has learned how to sip, the training cup has achieved its purpose. It can and should be set aside when no longer needed.

What Kind of Training Cup or Sippy Cup is Better for Your Child’s Teeth?

For sipping success, carefully choose and use a training cup. As the first birthday approaches, encourage your child to drink from a cup. As this changeover from baby bottle to training cup takes place, be very careful.

Parents should choose

  • What kind of training cup to use
  • What goes into the cup – water is best. Children can enjoy other drinks at meal times only.
  • How frequently your child sips from it. No worries it it’s water
  • To not let their child carry the cup around

Talk to your dentist for more information. If your child has not had a dental examination, schedule a well-baby checkup for his or her teeth. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry says that it’s beneficial for the first dental visit to occur within six months of the appearance of the first tooth, and no later than the child’s first birthday.

What Foods Can Cause Tooth Decay in Toddlers and Young Children?

Now more than ever, kids are faced with a bewildering array of food choices, especially during the pandemic when more children are home for extended periods than ever before. This makes the pantry and refrigerator available all day, which was not possible when kids were in school. What children eat and when they eat it may affect not only their general health but also their oral health. Avoid grazing!! Sugary foods and snacks should only be available during meal times.

Americans are consuming foods and drinks high in sugar and starches more often and in larger portions than ever before. It’s clear that junk foods and sugary drinks gradually have replaced nutritious beverages and foods for many people.

What Habits Can Cause Tooth Decay in Toddlers and Young Children?

Alarmingly, a steady diet of sugary foods and drinks can ruin teeth, especially among those who snack throughout the day. Common activities may contribute to the tendency toward tooth decay. These include grazing habitually on foods with minimal nutritional value, and frequently sipping on sugary drinks. When you eat sugar, you are cavity prone for about 30 minutes, so if you eat three meals a day, you are then cavity-prone for 90 minutes each day. If you snack all day, then you are cavity prone ALL DAY!! Frequent access is the main thing to consider.

When sugar is consumed over and over again in large, often hidden amounts, the harmful effect on teeth can be dramatic. Sugar on teeth provides food for bacteria, which produce acid. The acid in turn can eat away the enamel on teeth.

Almost all foods have some type of sugar that cannot and should not be eliminated from our diets. Many of these foods contain important nutrients and add enjoyment to eating. But there is a risk for tooth decay from a diet high in sugars and starches. Starches can be found in everything from bread to pretzels to salad dressing, so read labels and plan carefully for a balanced, nutritious diet for you and your kids.

How to Reduce Your Child’s Risk of Tooth Decay

  • Sugary foods and drinks should be consumed with meals. Saliva production increases during meals and helps neutralize acid production and rinse food particles from the mouth.
  • Limit between-meal snacks. If kids crave a snack, offer them nutritious foods.
  • If your kids chew gum, make it sugarless – Chewing sugarless gum after eating can increase saliva flow and help wash out food and decay-producing acid.
  • Monitor beverage consumption – Instead of soft drinks all day, children should also choose water and low-fat milk.
  •  Help your children develop good brushing and flossing habits.
  • Schedule regular dental visits

For more information about pediatric dentistry visit: 

The Baby Your Baby program provides many resources for all pregnant women and new moms in Utah. There is also expert advice from the Utah Department of Health and Intermountain Healthcare that air each week on KUTV 2News.

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