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You Don’t Need Teeth to Be Cavity-Prone

Posted Aug 29 2011 10:09am

Yep! Really.

New research has documented hundreds of bacterial species in the saliva of infants, including the microbes that biofilm and lead to decay. As the Dental Tribune recently reported ,

US researchers have found evidence of bacteria associated with early childhood caries in the saliva of infants with no teeth. Their findings suggest that infection with bacteria like Streptococcus mutans in the oral cavity occurs earlier in the development of children than previously thought.

As we noted before , tooth decay is the number one chronic health problem for kids. By the time they reach kindergarten, more than half of all children have a history of it, with 28% having untreated decay and 19% having extensive decay.

One big factor that’s fueled the rise in early childhood caries (cavities; “ECC” for short) is diet – especially increased consumption of fruit juice, soda and other sugary drinks even among the very young. For instance, one survey of infants receiving WIC assistance found that

  • 14% were given “sweet drinks (i.e., sugar water, fruit-flavored drinks, sodas, tea, and coffee)” within their first few months of life.
  • Nearly 1/3 were given such drinks before the age of 4.
  • Nearly half were given fruit juice much earlier than the recommended age of 6 months.

The problem isn’t restricted to WIC families. It’s pervasive [PDF]. Here in California, 41% of all kids aged 2 – 11 drink at least one soda or other sweet drink each day [PDF].

What this means: A whole lot of kids are regularly bathing their teeth and gums with sugar water. And sugars are what S. mutans and other pathogenic, biofilm-forming microbes love to feast on. Children who also eat a lot of starchy foods, processed carbs, and sweets feed the bacteria even more.

What to do?

  1. Limit the amount of sugar your child regularly consumes.
  2. Clean infants’ gums after feeding with a moist infant washcloth or gauze pad.
  3. Don’t let your child sleep with a bottle. If you do, fill it with unfluoridated water.
  4. Once your child starts eating solid food, go easy on starches and processed carbs .
  5. After your child’s first tooth erupts or no later than their first birthday, take them to the dentist for their first visit.
  6. As your child’s teeth begin to erupt, regularly clean them by brushing gently with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush lightly smeared with natural toothpaste – the kind that contains neither fluoride nor sodium lauryl sulfate. At age two or three, begin teaching your child how to brush their own teeth. Instill the habit of brushing after every meal.
  7. As soon as any two of your child’s teeth are touching each other, begin flossing their teeth regularly. By the age of six, they can learn how to properly floss on their own.

List adapted from previous post

Image by Ester Björg , via Flickr


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