A little girl laughs in a dentist's office.
Kids & Family Health

Keeping Young Children Safe from Cavities

In the first year of your child’s life, you’ll witness incredible transformations. That includes the emergence of their baby teeth, which usually appear four to seven months after birth. And while it’s wonderful seeing your baby’s smile develop, it also adds a critical requirement to their care.

That’s because like adult teeth, baby teeth are vulnerable to decay, infections, and cavities. When left untreated, these cavities (also referred to as “caries”) can seriously harm your child’s overall health. In some cases, surgical intervention is required to fix the damage. While rare, untreated cavities have even led to infant deaths. 

Thankfully, protecting baby teeth is simple. Here’s everything you should know about early childhood cavities, preventing them, and helping your child’s smile shine. 

Cavities — Causes and Consequences

Cavities are areas of damage on the surface of teeth caused by bacteria and acids. They are the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States. For infants and children aged 0-5, cavities can significantly affect overall health and well-being. 

The pain and discomfort caused by cavities can make it difficult for children to eat, sleep, and concentrate. They can also lead to infections and other complications, affecting essential growth and development. 

In the worst scenario, untreated cavities may lead to a severe infection under the gums that can spread to other parts of the body like the brain or lungs. From there, fatality is possible. The great news is that cavities are entirely preventable with proper care.

A young boy shows his bright smile.

Oral Care Essentials

Even before the first teeth appear, parents can help ensure their baby’s oral hygiene is on track. Follow this guide to ensure healthy development in preparation for adult smiles. 

  1. Early Care — Before your child has any teeth, clean their gums with a soft, damp, clean cloth, or gauze twice a day.
  2. Avoid Bottle Decay — Do not let your baby fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, juice, or other sugary drinks. Prolonged exposure to these liquids can cause cavities.
  3. Introduce Toothbrushing As soon as your baby's first tooth appears (around six months), start brushing with an infant toothbrush using fluoride toothpaste in an amount no larger than a grain of rice. As they grow, gradually increase the amount to a pea-sized portion.
  4. Regular Dental Check-ups — Schedule a dental visit by your baby’s first birthday or within six months after their first tooth appears. Regular dental check-ups can help detect any issues early and establish a positive relationship with the dentist.
  5. Fluoride Treatment — Talk to your child’s care provider about fluoride treatments or supplements. Fluoride helps strengthen tooth enamel and prevent decay.
  6. Establish Healthy Habits — Once they’re old enough to consume solid foods, encourage healthy eating habits by limiting sugary snacks and drinks, especially between meals. Offer nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy products to support dental health.
  7. Lead by Example — Show your child the importance of good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing your own teeth regularly in front of them. Monitor your child’s brushing to ensure they’re doing a good job.

Medical Dental Integration (MDI) at AltaMed

To help you and your family grow healthy, AltaMed has designed a care approach that integrates medical and dental services for thorough coverage. During routine checkups, our Medical Patient Service Advocates (PSAs) evaluate whether dental care is necessary. If needed, we’ll assist you in scheduling a dental visit for your child, ensuring seamless coordination between providers. 

This approach ensures your family receives comprehensive care to protect their health and well-being.

Smiles from Day One

From the moment they’re born, your time and energy will be spent protecting your child, and that includes their teeth. AltaMed has you covered with essential dental services including exams, cleanings, fillings, and so much more. Beyond oral hygiene, our integrated care approach helps ensure your family’s physical and mental health is on track too. 

To get started, click here or call us at (888) 499-9303.

Get started with AltaMed

See how AltaMed Health Services can help your family grow healthy.

Learn More

Keeping Young Children Safe from Cavities