Baby Teeth Need a Dentist, Too

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Laughing Baby Boy with New Teeth
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Baby teeth get cavities just like adult teeth. In fact, tooth decay is the most common long-term disease in children. Baby teeth—also called primary teeth—start to develop when a child is about six months old. Your child should see a pediatric dentist before his or her first birthday.

How Cavities Form

When children have a sugary food or liquid in their mouth, bacteria in the mouth break down the sugar. This process creates acids that eat away at baby teeth. More sugar means more acid and more tooth decay. Foods and drinks with lots of sugar include:

  • Breast milk

  • Formula

  • Regular milk

  • Juices

  • Sodas

  • Sweet and sticky foods

Why Cavities Are Really Bad for Kids

Cavities affect more than teeth. They can cause problems for your child’s overall health and wellness. 

Cavities can lead to:

  • Pain and infections that can spread

  • Poor nutrition 

  • Missed school

  • Frequent trips to the dentist, doctor or emergency room. Bad cavities can even cause problems that require surgery in an operating room.

  • High dental bills. The bill for fixing a child’s cavities could be thousands of dollars.

Most importantly, tooth decay makes a child less able to learn, grow and develop. Cavities can interfere with your child’s overall health. Pediatricians call this health-related, decreased quality of life.

How to Prevent Tooth Decay in Children

Make an appointment for your child to see a pediatric dentist. Children who have not been to the dentist in more than a year have the greatest risk of tooth decay. 

Other ways to prevent cavities in kids include:

  • Before baby teeth appear, clean your child’s gums with a clean washcloth after every meal.

  • When the first baby teeth appear, brush your child’s teeth twice a day. Use toothpaste that contains fluoride. Use just a dab of toothpaste. When your child is old enough, teach your child to do the brushing. Make sure your child learns to spit out after brushing.

  • Do not put your child to bed with a bottle or sippy cup that has anything in it but water.

  • Do not let your child use a sippy cup or bottle all day unless it contains just water. Put other liquids in the cup or bottle only at mealtime.

  • Move your child from the sippy cup to a regular cup as soon as possible.

  • Don't give fruit juices to children younger than six months.

  • Avoid snacks like sticky candies, cookies, fruit leather, and chips or crackers. They all have sugar and stick in your child’s teeth.

  • Find out if your water supply has fluoride. Also, ask your child’s doctor if your child needs a fluoride supplement. Fluoride hardens baby teeth and helps prevent tooth decay.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jun 25
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Early Childhood Caries. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. http://www.mychildrensteeth.org/assets/2/7/ECCstats.pdf

  2. Concerns. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/babies-and-kids/concerns/

  3. Preventing Tooth Decay in Children. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/oral-health/Pages/Preventing-Tooth-Decay-in-C...