When any new parent brings home a baby, there are natural worries about providing proper care, such as feeding, bathing, and diapering. The learning curve on these tasks tends to be pretty quick because they are repeated with such frequency. While you’re focused on these concerns, however, you might overlook other potential problem areas like oral health.
You might not think you need to worry too much about your child’s oral health before teething begins, or even for a little while after. However, you might be surprised to learn just how many young children suffer from oral health issues, especially a condition known as early childhood caries. Here’s what you need to know about this common problem.
What is ECC?
Early childhood caries, or ECC, occurs when children age 71 months or younger (basically under 6 years of age) suffer from one or more teeth that are decayed, missing, or filled. It is also commonly referred to as baby bottle caries, baby bottle tooth decay, or nursing caries.
There are several risk factors associated with the onset of ECC, such as poor feeding habits. When babies and children are allowed to fall asleep while feeding, such as with a bottle in the mouth, slower saliva production and swallowing leads to prolonged contact between food particles and teeth, potentially eroding enamel and resulting in ECC.
Other risk factors include congenital conditions, medical conditions that require the use of medications containing sugar, lower socioeconomic status, and the presence of cariogenic bacteria (that adhere to enamel and produce acids), among other things.
What Are the Consequences?
In the short term, a child that suffers from ECC will likely experience some amount of discomfort or pain associated with tooth decay and infection. Children with ECC may require fillings or they might lose teeth, and this can be both upsetting and expensive.
They may also have trouble eating due to painful chewing, which could lead to nutritional deficiencies, weight loss, and/or slower growth and development. As you may have guessed, ECC could also serve as a precursor to ongoing oral health problems when baby teeth begin to be replaced by permanent teeth.
Is ECC Preventable?
In many cases, early cooperation with a child’s dentist can help you to avoid ECC. Not every risk factor is preventable, but with proper knowledge and care, there’s a lot you can do to protect your child’s oral health. You can at least identify possible risk factors and work to treat them. Start with an early visit to your child’s dentist (within 6 months of the first tooth erupting) for a checkup and advice on how to best care for your child’s oral health.