All children are at risk for tooth decay. Enamel (hard outer layer) is much thinner and softer on baby teeth, putting them at greater risk of tooth decay. The good news is that tooth decay can be largely prevented. Baby teeth help children eat and talk.
To make matters worse, tooth decay in very young children is especially aggressive. If left untreated, it can quickly destroy entire teeth and lead to infections that turn into medical emergencies. This is especially problematic because cavities are often not treated in very young children. In fact, one study found that approximately 52% of children 3.5 years and younger who were taken to a children's hospital in the United States for cavity-related emergencies had their first contact with a dentist in the emergency room.
The buildup of bacteria in the mouth is the main cause behind tooth decay. When your child eats too much sugary and starchy foods, bacteria inside the mouth convert accumulated food particles into acids. The combination of bacteria, food, acid, and saliva forms a substance called plaque that adheres to teeth. As time goes by, acids produced by bacteria corrode tooth enamel, causing cavities.
In severe cases, the infection can erode significant amounts of the dental structure and reach the nerves and tissues found in the pulp chamber of the tooth. Tooth decay can also significantly affect a child's quality of life. If a child has a toothache or pain when chewing, they will not be able to eat properly. Growth and weight gain, sleep patterns, behavior, and school performance can also be negatively affected.
Tooth decay may first appear as white spots on the gum line on the upper front teeth. These spots are difficult to see at first, even for a child's doctor or dentist without the right equipment. A child with tooth decay needs to be examined and treated early to prevent the decay from spreading and prevent further damage.