03 Feb 2018
February 3, 2018

Causes of Tooth Decay in Children

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Tooth decay in babies and young children, commonly referred to as baby bottle tooth decay, is the most prevalent disease among children in the United States, affecting an estimated 44 percent of 5-year-olds. It is more common in families of lower socioeconomic status, but may occur across societal lines. Fortunately, this disease is reasonably easy to prevent. Here is what you should know about tooth decay in children.

 Young boy with blonde hair sitting outdoors drinking juice and wearing sun glasses.

What Causes Tooth Decay in Children?

Tooth decay is caused by bacterial colonies that firmly attach to the teeth. Carbohydrates such as sugar feed the bacteria and contribute to the glue-like substance that attaches them. Over time, the bacteria can erode the tooth enamel, causing cavities. If these cavities are not treated, the bacteria can enter the soft inner parts of the tooth, causing more extensive decay.

Tooth decay is a transmissible disease. In young children, it is frequently passed from parent to child via saliva on a spoon or a pacifier.

Poor feeding habits can also contribute to tooth decay. If your baby drinks a lot of fruit juice, milk, formula, or soda without proper oral hygiene, or if you put your baby to bed with a bottle, tooth decay may occur.

Children who receive inadequate amounts of fluoride or suffer from a condition known as enamel hypoplasia are also at higher risk. Tooth decay can start as soon as the teeth emerge. It is most common in the upper front teeth, but could affect all the teeth of the mouth.

Why Protect Baby Teeth?

Since baby teeth fall out, many parents wonder why they must be protected. Baby teeth maintain space in the jaw, allowing the permanent teeth to properly emerge. They allow the child to chew and speak, and tooth decay in the baby teeth can even affect the waiting permanent teeth. In addition, tooth decay can cause your child severe pain. 

Preventing Tooth Decay in Children

Tooth decay in children is reasonably easy to prevent. Follow these tips to reduce your child’s risk:

Never swap saliva with your baby on a pacifier or spoon

Never let your baby fall asleep with a bottle unless it contains only plain water

Gently wipe your baby’s gums with a damp washcloth or gauze pad starting shortly after birth

When the first tooth emerges, start brushing it with a tiny drop of toothpaste on a child-sized toothbrush. Ask your dentist whether to use fluoride toothpaste

Switch your child from a bottle to a cup no later than his first birthday

Teach your child to brush his own teeth, with help, by his third birthday

Model healthy eating and drinking habits

Have a checkup with the pediatrician soon after the first tooth emerges, and schedule an appointment with a family dentist around your child’s third birthday


At Family Dental Care of Bellevue, we are committed to providing quality dental care to our patients and their families. We are proud to have been voted one of the best dental offices in Washington State. If you are ready to take the first steps toward improving your dental health, we invite you to call 425-643-5778 today to make an appointment for your initial consultation.

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