Tooth decay in babies begins as soon as teeth cut through the gums into the mouth. Babies and young children most often present cavities on the upper front teeth but decay can be found in the back teeth as well. Early decay first surfaces as small white spots on the teeth. These white lesions appear to get bigger or multiply. As decay advances, it will gradually change to a light brown stain and seem to lack luster or appear chalky. The cavity may change from dark brown to black.
Tooth decay is a disease that begins with cavity causing bacteria being passed from mother who has these bacteria in the mouth to the infant. These bacteria are passed through the saliva when the mother puts the baby’s serving spoon in the mouth, or cleans a pacifier in the mouth; the bacteria are passed to the baby.
Another factor for tooth decay is the frequent exposure, prolonged exposure of the baby’s teeth to liquids that contain sugar, like sweetened water and fruit juice and potentially milk, breast milk and formula. Tooth decay can occur when the baby is put to bed with a bottle, or when a bottle is used as a pacifier for a fussy baby. The sugary liquids pool around the teeth while the child sleeps. Bacteria in the mouth use these sugars as food. Then they produce acids that attack the teeth. Multiple attacks are what cause tooth decay.
Infants and toddlers who do not receive an adequate amount of fluoride may also have an increased risk of tooth decay since fluoride combines with the outer covering of the tooth (enamel) and makes the tooth more resistant to the acid attack.
As decay worsens it will submerge deeper into the tooth’s enamel and seems to literally eat away the entire tooth. Eventually, a cavity will make its way to the baby tooth’s nerve and blood supply impacting health and appearance of permanent teeth as well as the overall child’s health.
It is important to talk to your dentist about scheduling the first dental visit as soon as the child’s first tooth appears. It is beneficial for the first dental visit to occur within six months after the first tooth appears, but no later than the child’s first birthday. Although this may seem early, starting early is the key to a life time of good dental health.