What can cause infant tooth decay?
According to a 2008 study in Pediatric Dentistry, primarily mothers, or anyone who kisses an infant with active tooth decay could pass cavities to the infant. Only people with active tooth decay can transfer the cavities to infants. Acid producing bacteria (streptococcus mutans) in the oral cavity cause tooth decay. Studies show that infants are not born with the bacteria that cause cavities, but that they are infected most often by their parents or caregivers. Once the transmission of bacteria from caregiver to baby has occurred the bacteria can multiply. The transmission of this decay causing oral bacteria from a caregiver to an infant could be caused by:
- kissing the infant
- the caregiver using their eating utensils to feed the infant
- the caregiver tasting the food or testing the temperature in their mouth prior to feeding
- ‘washing’ a soother in the caregivers’s mouth and then giving it to the infant
- the infant placing their fingers into the caregivers’s mouth and then into their own.
The most prominent cause of baby tooth decay however, is frequent exposure to sweetened liquids. These liquids include breast milk, baby formula, juice, and sweetened water. During the day, salivary flow is high and is more likely to wash away the sugary liquids that bacteria feed on to produce acid. During the night salivary flow is greatly reduced. When an infant is allowed to suck on a nursing bottle containing sugary liquids at night, the sugary liquids pool around the baby’s teeth giving the bacteria more time to convert the sugars to acid. This acid will dissolve the enamel of the baby teeth resulting in cavities.
Baby teeth are more sensitive to getting cavities when they first erupt. It is important to keep the primary teeth healthy because they stay in the mouth for five to ten years. If teeth are infected or lost too early due to decay, your child may develop poor eating habits, speech problems, crooked teeth, and damaged adult teeth.
The good news is that a few simple steps can help stave off infant tooth decay.
Watch for our next blog “Preventing Infant Tooth Decay”