How to Protect Baby and Toddler Teeth From Decay

baby toddler tooth decay
Child Tooth Decay
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I don’t recall what we were doing exactly, maybe brushing or just checking his teeth but, one day, I noticed a brown spot on one of my son’s back teeth. I assumed it was food and tried cleaning it but the stain refused to come off and that’s when I realised his first dental visit had been left too late. We had just relocated to another country, so a number of things were left on the backburner. A few things fell through the cracks, including toddler teeth initial checkup.

After an intense Google search and several reviews, we finally settled on a dental office we liked. We fixed an appointment and went in.

It turns out he had a cavity and needed dental work. I can’t begin to describe the pain I felt. I had failed my kid.

toothbrushes to help prevent toddler tooth decay

Interestingly, he rarely had soda, juices, candy or sugar-filled stuff. He had a set of gum cleaners and toothbrushes. We had been cleaning his teeth since they sprouted. So what went wrong?

Why, oh, why did this happen to me?

Well, it could be a number of things. Genetics, maybe we weren’t cleaning enough, maybe we should have introduced fluoride toothpaste earlier, maybe we should have flossed more. There are many maybes, so there’s no point beating oneself up about it. You can only do your best to arrest the situation and make changes to reverse tooth decay.

If this has been your experience as well, let’s just learn from our mistakes and consider it as experience.

And if this has not been your experience or you are just getting started with a baby, you can learn vicariously through those of us it has happened to.

Why should you take care of an infant or toddler’s oral health?

You may be thinking, “Why bother, aren’t the baby teeth gonna fall off anyway?” Well, as a caregiver, your actions, in the beginning, will help lay the foundation of healthy dental habits for your child.

Apart from social reasons, like confidence, a brilliant smile or good breath, there are important reasons for maintaining good oral health. According to Harvard Health, “Tooth decay and gum disease can lead to serious health problems, including brain or heart infections.” Source: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/hidden-dental-dangers-that-may-threaten-your-whole-body 

Also, baby teeth help with the alignment and positioning of adult teeth. If baby teeth are lost too early, permanent teeth won’t be guided into their proper space when they come in. This can lead to crooked teeth.

Cavities and tooth decay can be serious with complications like speech problems, pain, difficulty chewing.

Care of infant and toddler teeth.

It’s not impossible for toddler teeth to decay. In fact, it is more common than we believe. As soon as a tooth erupts, it can start to decay.

This means as soon as your baby sprouts teeth, it’s time to start brushing. Even before the teeth come out, you can get your children familiar with having their mouth cleaned. You should take care of baby gums before teeth erupt.

My son never resisted brushing, and I like to believe it’s because we started cleaning his mouth from infancy. 

Signs of tooth decay in toddlers may include; teeth discolouration that does not come off, red or swollen gums, bad breath, pain.

How to take care of baby and toddler teeth

baby teeth care
  1. Start early. It’s not too early to start caring for your child’s teeth, even from infancy. You should get your little ones used to the daily routine of cleaning their mouths. Their gums can be cleaned with a soft, wet and clean cloth. You can also use a silicone finger toothbrush like this one. When their teeth start to erupt, switch to a proper baby toothbrush and use fluoride-free toothpaste. Speak with their paediatrician about when to start using fluoride toothpaste.
  2. Do not share spoons with them. Babies are not born with decay-causing bacteria. They usually get it from their caregivers. For this reason, it’s important not to share cutlery and other things that go in our mouths with them. This is not completely avoidable, so it’s even better to be on top of your own dental situation.
  3. Control sugar exposure. Sugar is a major culprit behind many health issues, and we need to keep our eyes on our children’s sugar intake. A ton of the things we eat have sugar in them, even fruits and vegetables, hello carrots. So we really should have a handle on what our children eat. Feed them nutritious foods and not just sugar-packed things.
  4. Clean morning and night. It’s not enough to only brush once a day because this gives bacteria time to settle in, kick off their shoes and start to cause damage. Make it a habit to brush twice daily, for at least two minutes. In the morning and at night, after they have had all food and drinks for the day.
  5. No sleeping with bottles. This is next to impossible for infants, especially with their several night feedings. But toddlers should not be going to bed with a bottle of milk, juice or anything other than water. It defeats the purpose if you clean their teeth at night and then have them settle down with food. This tip also becomes useful when it’s time for potty-training.
  6. Schedule regular dental visits. This is very important. There are things that could be going on which you aren’t trained or have the tools to see. In most cases, it’s best to have their first dental visit around age one and then go with the schedule their dentist provides.
Baby teeth care
  1. Floss once teeth start to touch. It’s important to get rid of food and gunk that may have become settled between teeth around the gums. Not all cavities develop where we can see them. Sometimes they start in well-hidden places like where two teeth touch. If flossing with regular string floss is an issue, you could look into options like dental floss picks. That’s what I use with my son because I can easily hold the base and get the string part between his teeth, which is all we need.

What if Your Toddler Hates Brushing?

What if you already missed setting a tooth brushing routine in the baby stage? Does your toddler hate brushing and resists your attempts to ensure they grow with dazzling teeth? Well, that sucks, but dental health is so important, it cannot be left up to a child’s preference. This means caregivers need to find ways to make brushing teeth a pleasant routine for their toddlers. There are a couple of tips that can help.

  1. Lead by example. Let them know it’s an important and regular part of daily activities and not up for negotiation. If they see you do it regularly, they might be interested in copying you. Babies and toddlers observe and imitate others in their environment frequently, so give them good habits to imitate.
  2. Involve them. You could let them hold and use their toothbrush under your supervision. Granted, they won’t do a good job until they are much older. But if they show interest in holding the toothbrush, don’t make it a power struggle. Leave the child to do their part; you can go over it again to make sure it’s properly done. Just be sure to stay within the recommended quantity of toothpaste for the cleaning session. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a small smear of toothpaste, about a grain of rice, for babies and toddlers under 3 years. A pea-sized amount for kids 3 to 6. (source: https://www.healthline.com/health/fluoride-toothpaste)
  3. Try electric toothbrushes. There are several options on Amazon, Walmart etc. The vibration and noise it makes can be a game-changer for some kids as it piques their interest. Not all kids enjoy the buzz though, so don’t throw your kids’ manual toothbrush away just yet.
  4. Make it a positive experience. It may be tough in the beginning with your toddler who hates brushing, but try your best to make it fun for them. Let them pick out their own toothbrushes when you go shopping, sing a song they like, play silly games during the process.
  5. Screen time. They are a few groovy YouTube videos that can help the process; my son loves the video below. Chances are if your child has a favourite show, there’s an episode out there that encourages toothbrushing for kids – Daniel Tiger, Peppa Pig, Sesame Street, Blippi etc. Check for one your child likes, so they see their favourite characters getting their teeth clean.

Should babies and toddlers use fluoride toothpaste?

Fluoride is a mineral found in soil, water, air and some food. Fluoride protects teeth by making teeth enamel stronger and more resistant to acid, thus preventing cavities in people of all ages.

Check with your dentists or doctor on when to introduce fluoride toothpaste for your child.

p.s. How are your new year resolutions coming along? You can get some tips to help here.


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6 comments

  1. Interesting read. Learnt so much …and true….electric toothbrushes would pique interest. It did with ours. That said… we should even watch the volume of fluoride, as fluoride exists in the water we drink and too much could cause discolorations et al. Thanks for all of the reminders to lead by example 🙂

    1. Thanks for leaving a comment, Wendy!

      Totally! Too much fluoride isn’t optimal either. It is important to check with the paediatrician or dentist before it is introduced to children. And we should also stick to recommended amounts: about a grain of rice, for babies and toddlers under 3 years. A pea-sized amount for kids 3 to 6.

      Electric toothbrushes are pretty cool, good to know they worked with your children 🙂

  2. Great write up! I have that brush set up there but my son hates brushing. My daughter however loves her brush, she even carries it outside the bathroom 😂 I need to try more for the boy o.
    Thanks again for the tips

    1. Hehehe. I can just picture your daughter making a dash out of the bathroom with her toothbrush, too cute!

      Hopefully, your son gets more interested in getting his mouth cleaned soon. Fingers crossed 🤞

      Thanks for your comment!

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