Because early childhood cavities are so common, it’s easy to take a cavalier attitude towards them. We justify cavities by thinking, “it’s not the end of the world if my kids get cavities, as long as they take better care of their permanent teeth in the future. After all, my child’s baby teeth are going to fall out eventually, so aren’t they essentially ‘disposable’ teeth?”
The truth is, your baby’s first teeth are extremely important in shaping their health and future well-being. The first six years of life lay the foundation for your child’s development. Starting at birth (and even in the womb), babies and children establish patterns that influence:
Not only do these patterns affect the quality of their sleep, growth, digestion and communication — they actually shape the development of their muscles and bones!
Teeth play a very important role in the development of your child’s jaw and skull. That is why tooth decay is a serious condition that can impact your child’s development in harmful and unexpected ways.
Simply put: Bacteria. Your mouth is home to around 600 species of bacteria — tiny microorganisms living in a community called a microbiome. Many of these bacteria are harmless or even beneficial, but some (like Streptococcus mutans) are a problem because they cause tooth decay.
A healthy mouth has a balanced microbiome and is able to keep bacterial populations in check. When harmful bacteria grow more quickly than the body is able to neutralize them, acid and decay are sure to follow.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that sharing food and drinks with your child can pass unwanted cavity bacteria on to them. Just like passing on germs from a cold or flu, cavity bacteria can pass through saliva.
Cavities, caries, and tooth decay all refer to the same basic issue, and are often used interchangeably.
Cavities are small holes that form on the surface of the tooth. These pitted holes are caused by caries (tooth decay). Tooth decay is caused by a buildup of bacteria and acid on the tooth. This acid is produced as a result of excess sugars and starches left over in the mouth after you eat or drink.
Although it is true that “baby” teeth (known by dentists as primary teeth) are replaced by permanent “adult” teeth, those so-called “baby” teeth really matter!
Primary teeth are important for many reasons. They help children speak clearly and chew naturally. Plus, they help form a path that permanent teeth can follow when they are ready to come in.
So, when dental issues begin in the primary teeth, they also continue into adulthood. This is why it’s so important to understand and recognize when the signs of early childhood cavities are tied to oral dysfunction.
In addition to brushing, flossing, dental check-ups and flouride, there are other factors that can influence cavities — including nutrition and oral restrictions such as tongue ties, buccal ties, and lip ties.
Tooth buds begin to form in a fetus while it is still in the womb. Most babies start teething at around 6 months (although some babies are born with teeth!). As your baby grows, an amazing process takes place in slow-motion as each of their teeth emerge from the gums. Most kids have 20 teeth (10 on the top and 10 on the bottom) by around 3 years of age.
Between 4-6 years of age, your child goes through a critical period of jaw and facial bone development. Then, between the ages of 6-12, the teeth begin “falling out” naturally as they are pushed out by the new, budding teeth in the gums. By about age 13, a healthy child will have a full set of adult or “permanent teeth” that will need to last them for the rest of their lives.
Breastfeeding in-and-of-itself does NOT directly cause cavities. In fact, there are many reasons why breastfeeding supports your baby’s oral health and tooth development.
Breast milk is the perfect food for babies. It passes vital nutrients and minerals to the baby, which build healthy teeth and bones. The act of nursing on the breast strengthens oro-facial muscles needed for optimal airway, jaw and skull development. Breast milk even contains antibodies, which are “good” bacteria, for healthy oral and gut microbiome (a protein that protects against harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay).
There is some research that supports taking extra precautions to prevent cavities in toddlers 24 months (2 years) and older who breastfeed on-demand through the night. For example, taking care to brush your toddler’s teeth before they fall asleep to avoid pools of breast milk on their teeth. Giving your child healthy, nutritious foods and avoiding sugars (such as sweets and fruit juice), mushy processed foods, and refined starches (such as white bread) also goes a long way to reduce other factors in early childhood caries.
Cavities alone are not genetic; however, certain genetic factors can make you more prone to cavities. You can inherit traits that affect oral restrictions, tooth shape, enamel formation, immune response and your oral microbiome. For example, your genes can affect how hard or soft the tooth is. Oral restrictions, like tongue, lip or buccal ties, tend to be passed down from generation to generation, and can increase your risk of cavities. Thankfully, oral restrictions can be treated, which can reduce cavities.
It is important to avoid confusing “prevalent” with “normal.” Although cavities have become very widespread, they are certainly a cause for concern. Even one cavity can cause pain and infection for your child. If your child has cavity symptoms, take them to the pediatric dentist for treatment. Then, double-down on prevention at home by improving nutrition and oral hygiene for optimal dental health. If your child has chronic cavities, find a healthcare provider who can screen for underlying issues such as oral restrictions.
At the health:latch circle, we believe that holistic solutions to the problem of tooth decay in children go well beyond this.
You can learn more about them here.
Absolutely! Tooth decay skyrocketed alongside the Industrial Revolution, which made processed carbohydrates and refined sugar cheap and accessible. Reducing sugars, refined flour, and sweets is just one piece of the solution. It is just as important to provide your child with a variety of healthy, unprocessed foods. In his book The Dental Diet, Dr. Lin advocates for a return to whole foods that are rich in minerals, vitamins, and fats.
Take your baby to the dentist by age 1, or when their first tooth erupts — whichever comes first. Your baby’s first dental visit is important in regards to making sure their development and oral health is the best that it can be. Find a dentist who is good with kids and is well-versed in screening for issues such as oral restrictions, which can increase the risk of cavities.
The circle makes it easy for you to surround yourself with caring and knowledgeable healthcare professionals across many healthcare fields and healing modalities who can guide and advise you through the ups and downs of diagnosing, treating, and recovering from the long-term effects of an oral restriction.
The health:latch circle is a radically kind, community-based online platform that allows interested parents and professionals to ask questions, learn together and connect to trusted professionals who are committed to helping families thrive.