Caries … what in the world is that?

There is a bacterial infection called “caries.”  It causes tooth decay and cavities. It is the most common chronic disease of early childhood.  Upwards of 50% of 5-year-old children have “had” caries (tooth decay). Sure, this is “only” affecting baby teeth, which the child will eventually lose, to be replaced by permanent adult teeth.  But when the teeth are impacted, overall well-being is impacted, including: eating, speaking, learning and playing.  Pain, caused by tooth decay, negatively affects childhood development.  Furthermore, the health of those future permanent teeth can be compromised.

If these bacteria are so common, what can be done about it?  Great news!  Nearly all tooth decay can be prevented.  There are two main factors in preventing tooth decay:

  1. Although there is some controversy over fluoride and its excessive use, it is a proven fact that brushing with fluoride toothpaste is important to oral health and preventing tooth decay.  Brushing twice a day is recommended.
  2. Exposure to sugars brings the greatest risk for tooth decay.  Do not give your child juice, especially at bedtime.  Formula also contains sugars, so if you are formula feeding your little one, you need to be brushing his teeth, as well.  The interaction between sugars and bacteria produces acids that slowly damage tooth enamel.  Tooth enamel is the protective covering of the teeth.

But, wait! There’s more!  You can implement other practices to help reduce your child’s (and your own) risk of tooth decay. Add these tools to your tool box and benefit from great oral health:

  1. Regular checkups. Going to the dentist every six months is worth it.  Cleanings remove buildup on the teeth and also provide the opportunity to catch decay before it progresses.
  2. Drink water. Drinking water rinses the mouth and helps decrease the interaction between your food and drinks and the bacteria that causes tooth decay.  Fluoridated water provides an extra level of protection, as fluoride helps to strengthen the tooth enamel.
  3. Teeth have 5 sides (front, back, side, side, top).  Brushing only reaches 3 of those sides, but adding flossing to your routine ensures that ALL 5 sides of each tooth are cleaned daily.

Remember, there are about a billion microbes in your child’s mouth.  These microbes recycle what we eat and drink.  When the microbes have access to sugars, then they will eventually recycle those sugars into acids.  Acids wear down the tooth enamel and eventually, the tooth is subject to bacterial invasion that causes cavities.

Reducing risk is simple:  brush teeth, reduce intake of sugars, drink water, floss, and go to the dentist regularly.