Baby teeth: not just for babies

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Aria Gehman
  • 86th Dental Squadron
Cavities in children are increasing as the number of children affected by tooth decay is on the rise.

Helping families become more aware of the causes of tooth decay and how to best prevent this disease can decrease the number of children affected by cavities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in five children, ages five to 11 years old, have at least one untreated cavity and there are several factors contributing to this.

Cavity-causing bacteria can be transferred from caregivers to infants and toddlers through breast-feeding or saliva transmission during the period when baby teeth are being replaced by adult teeth (eruption), according to findings of University of Washington's Department of Dental Public Health Sciences. Such transmission is called "vertical transmission" and is more likely to occur from caregivers with untreated tooth decay or poor oral hygiene habits.

Vertical transmission can occur within the first weeks of a child's life, but most often occurs once the baby teeth start to erupt. Once this bacterium is introduced into the child's mouth, children are five times more likely to have tooth decay than those with lower levels of the bacteria.

Furthermore, when a significant amount of sugary foods and drinks remain constant in a child's diet, additional bacterial can grow. If the bacteria are not properly removed, it will accumulate and produce plaque, which is essentially a bacterial colony that produces acid and can cause cavities.

Parents should have children seen by a dental provider as soon as teeth erupt or by the time they are one year old. Some parents may place a low priority on baby teeth, thinking that these teeth will be lost soon.

However, many of these teeth are not lost until the age of 12.   Even though teeth with cavities will be replaced by a permanent set, the disease process continues, fueling an environment within the mouth that predisposes adult teeth to cavities.

It is never too early to establish good dental habits for a child and it starts with a caregiver's own oral health. One of the most significant and beneficial things a caregiver can do for their child's health is to focus on their own oral health, limit sharing of food and brushing their child's teeth as soon as they come in.
These things will significantly limit the risk of bacteria transmission to their child and limit their child's risk of cavities in their baby and adult teeth.

For more information on this topic please contact the 86th Dental Squadron at DSN 479-2210 or 06371-46-2210.