Preventing infant tooth decay

Babies and toddlers need care for their teeth and gums. Infant tooth decay (caries) can occur in babies. Bottle feeding should be monitored. Babies and toddlers should not drink juices or soft drinks. Babies and toddlers should have their teeth brushed when their first tooth appears.

Early childhood caries (decay) is a severe form of dental decay that affects the baby teeth of infants and young children. Other names given to this condition include nursing bottle caries, infant feeding caries and baby bottle decay. The upper four front teeth (incisors) are most commonly affected whereas the lower front teeth are usually not as they are protected by the tongue and saliva.

Bottle Feeding

Babies under four to six months need only breast milk or formula. If you are breastfeeding, remove your baby from your breast after feeding. If you are bottle feeding:

  • Take the bottle away when the child has had enough.
  • The bottle should only contain breastmilk or appropriate infant formula.
  • Introduce the child to a feeding cup between six and eight months of age. In most cases, the bottle can be discarded when the child is 12 months old.
  • Encourage children to drink water rather than fruit juices or sweet drinks when thirsty.

Avoid dipping dummies in honey, glycerine or other foods or liquids. All natural sugars that are not easily cleared from the mouth, including honey, can lead to tooth decay. If your child needs medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist to prescribe a sugar-free form.

Dental Checks

Dental checks can help detect early childhood caries. Oral health professionals recommend that your child should have an oral health assessment by the age of two. All children who are 12 years and under are eligible for priority public oral health services. Children receive general oral health advice as well as dental check-ups and treatment. For eligibility information, contact Dental Health Services Victoria, Tel. 1300 360 054.

Talk with your oral health professional about your child’s risk level and how frequently they should visit for an oral health check.

Tooth Brushing

Tips on brushing your baby or toddler’s teeth include:

  • Start as soon as the first tooth appears. Wipe the front and back of each tooth using a finger wrapped in a clean damp face washer or gauze.
  • Introduce a soft toothbrush at 12 months (earlier if tolerated by the infant).
  • Brush along the gum line twice a day.
  • Introduce an appropriate toothpaste (as recommended by your oral health professional) at about 18 months of age.
  • Use a pea-size amount of toothpaste.

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