Can Infants Get Cavities?
It’s never easy to deliver the news of cavities to parents, let alone when their child is only an infant. It is absolutely possible for children under the age of three to develop cavities.
Let’s take a step back and talk about tooth development. We normally expect a baby’s first teeth around the age of 6 months old, give or take a month or so. Up until the age of 3 years, infants will continue to develop teeth in a symmetrical pattern (left and right sides). A full set of baby teeth comprises of 20 teeth (10 on the top, and 10 on the bottom).
At any point during development, babies can develop dental decay. That means that dentists can see cavities in babies as young as 4-6 months old!
There are usually five reasons why infants develop dental decay:
- Goes to bed with a bottle
- Allowing infants to sleep right after having a bottle or right after nursing is a continuous source of nourishment for your baby AND the bacteria that causes cavities. Even though milk/formula does not usually have added sugar, it does contain some natural sugars which can feed cavity-causing bacteria.
- Shares foods and kisses with a caregiver/parent who has cavities
- Individuals who have untreated cavities have higher concentrations of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth, and these bacteria can be spread through close contact and sharing food utensils!
- Does not clean teeth after meals
- Regardless if an infant is still nursing or using a bottle, the teeth and gums should be cleaned with a soft toothbrush or soft washcloth to remove milk/formula residue from the mouth because of the sugars in these foods.
- Enamel defects
- It is rare, but new teeth can erupt from the gums with deformities. These deformities can make the teeth more prone to cavities than they ordinarily would be. Enamel defects can be the result of genetic or environmental disturbances that occurred when the teeth were forming.
- Sugar-sweetened medications
- It is a little known fact that many medications formulated for infants and young children contain sugar syrups (‘simple syrup’) which help with medication compliance. It is important to try to take these medications at meal times if possible or brush the teeth after taking the medication.
The difficulty with treating infants at a young age is often the difficulty of cooperation. Additionally, when infants get cavities at such a young age the enamel is still very thin and immature which allows cavities to progress quickly and cause toothaches. Having toothaches at such a young age has the potential to cause lifelong disturbances in development if there are oral aversions and feeding issues due to tooth pain. For these reasons, it is recommended that infants under the age of 3 years get dental check ups 1-2 times per year.