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Early Childhood Tooth Decay

Early Childhood Tooth Decay (cavities)

What is Early Childhood Tooth Decay?

Cavities in infants and toddlers is often referred to as early childhood tooth decay (cavities), baby bottle tooth decay, or early childhood caries. Infant's teeth are susceptible to cavities as soon as they begin to errupt. It is the most common chronic childhood disease.

Early Childhood Caries (ECC) is a severe form of cavities in baby teeth of infants and toddlers. Baby teeth have thinner enamel (outer tooth surface) than permanent teeth, making them susceptible to cavities. Cavities often occur in the front, upper teeth, but may occur in other teeth as well.

What causes Early Childhood Tooth Decay?

Cavities happen when bacteria (sugars and acids from food) begins to break down the tooth enamel. The bacteria also can be transferred from a caregiver's mouth to the infant when they share a utensil or pacifier.

How does Early Childhood Tooth Decay affect my child?

Baby teeth play an important role. They help your child chew and speak clearly, and hold a place for adult teeth. Untreated cavities has been associated with difficulty in eating, sleeping, learning and proper nutrition.

What can I do about Early Childhood Tooth Decay?

  • Only give your child a bottle during meals.
  • Do not put your child to bed with a bottle.
  • Get rid of the bottle by age one.
  • Healthy eating habits.
  • No dipping pacifiers in sweetened liquids.
  • No sweetened beverages in the bottle.

Protect your baby's teeth with fluoride.

Community water fluoridation is the most effective measure to prevent and control cavities. Fluoride is in most tap water and protects your childs teeth from cavities. If you are uncertain if your water contains fluoride ask your dentist or health care provider.

Check and clean your baby's teeth.

Healthy teeth should be all one color. If you see spots (white or brown) or stains on the teeth, contact your dentist.

Clean your baby's gums with a clean, soft cloth or a baby's toothbrush. Cleaning of your babies gums is recommended after every feeding. Once your child's first tooth errupts clean with a soft toothbrush along with a rice size amount of flouridated toothpaste twice daily.

Try brushing their teeth first and then letting them finish. Recommendations suggest caregiver assistance is used until they are 7 or 8 years old. 

Feed your baby healthy food.

  • Choose foods without a lot of sugar,
  • Give your child fruits and vegetables for snacks.
  • Save cookies and other treats for special occasions.

Here are some other things you can do:

  • Between feedings, don't give your baby a bottle or sippy cup filled with sweet drinks to carry around.
  • Near their first birthday, teach your child to drink from an open cup.
  • It is recommended that if your baby uses a pacifier you stop usage before age three.

Take your child to the dentist.

Your child should have a dental visit by his first birthday or six months after the first tooth erruption.
At this visit, the dentist will:

  • Check your child's teeth.
  • Show you the best way to clean your child's teeth.
  • Talk to you about other things such as a healthy diet and fluoride that can keep your child's mouth healthy.

Information sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,