Early Childhood Caries: Causes and Prevention Methods


corina-rico-author-banner 121213 Last month, fellow RN Remedies® blogger, Nicole Freedman, talked about the importance of taking care of your child’s teeth early on in life. One of her tips was how you should never allow your child to sleep with a bottle that has milk, juice or other sweet liquids. This is because it can lead to early childhood caries (ECC). Formerly known as baby bottle tooth decay or nursing caries, ECC is the early development of cavities in children under 5 years old. Read below to learn more about this common problem and how you can prevent it.

What is Early Childhood Caries?

baby smiling with bottle 2

Early childhood caries are cavities that most often show up on a child’s upper front teeth but can also affect other teeth.  It first shows up as white spots near the gum line. According to Dr. Jose Polido, DDS, chief of pediatric dentistry in the Division of Dentistry and Orthodontics at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, these spots are hard to see at first, but if caught early can be stopped from progressing into cavities. As it gets worse, they can look like brown spots, holes or broken teeth which will require more involved procedures to fix. It is very important to get treatment early to stop the decay from getting worse.

What Causes Early Childhood Caries?

It happens when liquids and foods that contain sugar, like milk and juice, are left in your child’s mouth for many hours. Bacteria love sugar and use it to make acids that, overtime, destroy your child’s teeth. “These and other factors involved, such as the frequency of feedings, oral hygiene, medications, other medical and dental conditions, determine your child’s caries risk, or the likelihood that he or she will develop caries,” says Dr. Polido.

Simple Ways to Prevent Early Childhood Caries

One of the easiest ways to prevent caries is not putting your child to bed with a bottle filled with milk, formula, juice or other sweet liquids. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), most children who are seven or eight months of age no longer need to feed during the night. Also, giving your child a bottle while they are lying down may place them at risk for getting ear infections. If your child must have a bottle to go to sleep, slowly dilute the milk or juice with water over a few weeks until your child is only drinking water.

Other prevention methods include: (Share these tips on Twitter)

  • Only giving your child a bottle during meals. Do not allow your child to walk around with it or drink from it throughout the day.
  • Adopting a healthy balanced diet for your child and limit starchy, sugary snacks and sugary drinks.
  • Cleaning your baby’s gums with a soft toothbrush or cloth and water starting at birth. Once their first tooth erupts, use a soft toothbrush twice a day. Use a “smear” of toothpaste if your child is under two years of age and a “pea-size” amount if they are between two and five years of age. The use of fluoridated toothpaste is dictated by your child’s caries risk, as determined by the dental or medical provider.
  • Not dipping pacifiers in any sweetened liquid.
  • Teaching your child to start drinking from a cup as early as possible, preferably before they turn one year of age. By drinking from a cup, the liquid is less likely to pool around the front teeth. The American Academy of Pediatrics states, “Children who use a bottle after 15 months of age or have sweets or starchy snacks more than three times a day are at higher risk of getting ECC.”
  • Take your child to a pediatric dentist for an early evaluation by their first birthday. The pediatric dentist will discuss the risk of your child developing cavities and the best way to prevent them.

Remember, baby teeth are very important for speaking and chewing. If early childhood caries causes your child to lose teeth too early, your child’s permanent teeth may come in crooked or crowded. By following these suggestions today, you can help your child start a lifetime of good dental habits.