The "soft teeth" myth


If you think that “soft teeth” are the reason that cavities tend to run in families, you’ll be surprised to know the real reason. Research shows that dental caries (tooth decay) is an infectious disease. In fact, it is the most common chronic childhood disease. But there’s good news: It is preventable.

Bacteria Are to Blame

Dental caries is associated with particular strains of bacteria, mutanstype Streptococcus) includes Strep sobrinus and Strep. mutans) and Lactobaccili which live in the mouth.Mothers who carry these bacteria — especially those who have many cavities or fillings — can pass them to their baby or child through their saliva.

The bacteria live on sugar, so they thrive on a diet that’s high in carbohydrates, including sweet liquids such as baby formula, milk, and juice. When bacteria break down these sugars, they produce acids that attack tooth enamel and cause decay. If infants are put to bed with a bottle containing milk, juice or other sweet liquids, they can get very severe tooth decay and this is called baby bottle tooth decay. The decay process can affect tiny teeth as soon as they begin to appear.

Dental caries don’t have to be a part of your child’s life. Following proper steps to improve your own oral health, cleaning your baby’s teeth, and making a thoughtful approach to infant and toddler feeding can reduce your child’s risk for tooth decay.

What You Can Do

There are important steps you can take to prevent early childhood caries:

  • First of all, reduce your own oral bacteria levels by caring for your teeth. Brush gently at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and floss at least once a day. Eat a healthy diet and limit sugary or starchy snacks. Schedule regular dental exams and cleanings. Establish healthy habits that your child can eventually follow, too.

  • If you put your baby to sleep with a bottle, fill it only with water. Feeding juices, milk, and other sweet drinks contributes to tooth decay. Avoid breast-feeding at night after the baby’s first tooth has emerged. Help your child learn to drink from a cup by the first birthday.

  • Try comforting the child with a pacifier (or favorite toy or blanket) instead of using the bottle or breast between feedings, at night, or for naps. Don’t dip the pacifier in sweet liquids.

  • Wipe your baby’s gums after every feeding with a gauze pad or infant toothbrush and water, and begin to gently brush the teeth as soon as they erupt. Clean and massage the gums in areas that remain toothless and begin flossing when all the baby teeth are in place, usually by age 2 or 2.5.

  • A child’s first visit to the dentist should be made by his or her first birthday, or within six months after the first tooth erupts, whichever comes first.

  • Even after a child is able to hold a toothbrush and go through the motions of cleaning, continue to help with brushing. Small children may not have the dexterity to do a thorough job.

  • Check your baby’s teeth regularly. If you suspect your child has a dental problem, schedule a visit to the dentist as soon as possible.

Practicing good dental habits from infancy will help your child have a beautiful smile for a lifetime.

“Maternal Oral Health in Pregnancy.” K.A. Boggess. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2008, vol. 111, pp. 976–86. Accessed 2013.

“ADA Statement on Early Childhood Caries.” American Dental Association. Accessed 2013.

“Baby Bottle Tooth Decay.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. Accessed 2013.

“Decay.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. 2013.

“Dental Care for Your Baby.” American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Accessed 2013.

“Infant Pacifiers: An Overview.” R.H. Schwartz and K.L. Guthrie. Clinical Pediatrics. May 2008, vol. 47, no. 4, pp. 327–31. Abstract: Accessed 2013.

Back to Articles