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Infant and Child Oral Health

Early Childhood Tooth Decay

Early Childhood Tooth Decay (ECTD) is a form of cavities in infants, toddlers and young children.

A baby’s teeth are prone to cavities as soon as they appear in the mouth.

Acid attacks occur when a child’s teeth are constantly exposed to sugar liquids or foods. These acid attacks begin to break down tooth enamel and this leads to Early Childhood Tooth Decay.

Plaque is a sticky film that forms on teeth. When plaque is combined with sugar from food or drinks, it produces an acid that causes decay.

The upper front teeth are usually the first teeth to show signs of decay.

Prevention of Early Childhood Tooth Decay

  • Water is the best choice of drink between meals and at bedtime.
  • To avoid early tooth decay, any liquid containing sugar (even natural sugars) can cause cavities.
  • Encourage the use of an open-faced cup by 12–15 months of age.
  • When your child starts solids, limit sweet and sticky foods.
  • Tooth Friendly Snacks for Children

Early Childhood Tooth Decay can have devastating effects on your child. Pain, infection and early loss of very important baby teeth can result. Primary (baby) teeth are important because:

  • Chewing on well-formed teeth helps the jaw bones to grow and develop properly.
  • Baby teeth provide proper space for permanent teeth to grow in.
  • Baby teeth are necessary for proper chewing of food, and normal digestive processes.
  • Baby teeth are needed for speech and language development.
  • Healthy baby teeth are important for a child’s self-esteem and wellbeing.
  • Children do not lose all their baby teeth at once. Primary molars on average are lost around 12 or 13 years of age.

Practice Early Oral Care

  • Begin oral care the first week of life.
  • Use a clean wet washcloth to clean baby’s gums daily.
  • Make sure baby has swallowed all milk before lying down.
  • Once teeth are present use a soft bristled toothbrush to clean teeth, or continue to use a clean wet washcloth to clean teeth and gums daily until you are comfortable using a toothbrush.
  • Avoid passing on harmful bacteria to baby, example do not put infant’s spoon, fork or soother in adult’s mouth.

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First Year, First Visit

The Canadian Dental Association recommends that all children see a dental health professional by age one.

  • This helps to spot possible problems at early stages when treatment is most simple.
  • Tooth decay is the second most common childhood disease.
  • Seeking dental care prevents this problem and gives your child a lifetime of healthy smiles.
  • Call your dental provider today to book that first appointment.
  • The Health Unit offers free first visits with a Registered Dental Hygienist. Call 1-800-660-5853 or 613-345-5685 to book an appointment.

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Teething can be painful. Red cheeks, drooling, irritability and low grade fever are all normal symptoms of teething.

High-grade fever and vomiting are not normal symptoms of teething.

You can use a clean damp washcloth or a cool teething ring to comfort the child.

Teething biscuits are not recommended as they can cause the new teeth to decay.

Topical teething gels that are rubbed on the gums are NOT recommended as they can numb baby’s throat.

Consult your healthcare professional about other pain relief options.

Sucking is a natural comforting behaviour for your infant. A baby will decide if and what they will comfort themselves with, such as a thumb or something else, and trying to change that may be difficult.

Never use something sugary for soothing.

If you are concerned about the length of the soothing habit, discuss with an oral health professional.

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Oral Hygiene for Children

Teeth should be brushed 2 times a day for 2 minutes. Brush in the morning and before bedtime.

Always use a soft bristled toothbrush.

Encourage children to brush their own teeth with parent’s assistance, until child has developed the skills to do a thorough job.

A child’s teeth should be flossed once daily as soon as the sides of them touch.

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Fluoride is a mineral and may be in your well water, or it can be added to municipal drinking water systems. Fluoride strengthens teeth from birth to 13 years of age. Fluoride in the form of gels, rinses and toothpastes can reverse the early stages of tooth decay.

Toothpaste with Fluoride – A Guide for Use with Children

Monitor the amount of toothpaste with fluoride used. More is NOT better. Swallowing too much fluoridated toothpaste can result in fluorosis (white splotches) on adult teeth. Please refer to Tips for Brushing Children’s Teeth.

Testing Fluoride Levels in Well Water

If you are interested in having your well water tested for fluoride levels, there are licensed laboratories that will provide this service for a fee.

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