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FOR RELEASE: February 1, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Prevent Early Childhood Tooth Decay through Proper Care

Many parents do not realize the importance of oral hygiene care for babies and may neglect the care of baby teeth, according to dental health professionals. The primary teeth of children, often referred to as baby teeth, are critical for proper chewing, speaking, and appearance, even though they are eventually replaced by permanent teeth.

February is National Children's Dental Health Month and the Oklahoma State Department of Health wants to inform parents that some children can develop serious tooth decay before their 3rd birthday. This can be prevented if parents will clean their children's teeth at home and obtain regular dental care for them. Children should have their first dentist's visit by their 1st birthday.

Baby bottle tooth decay, called nursing-bottle or nursing-mouth syndrome, is a condition that can destroy the primary teeth of an infant or young child. It develops when a baby frequently receives a bottle of milk, formula, fruit juice or sweetened liquids to serve as a pacifier or comforter. It can result when a child is allowed to fall asleep with a bottle during naps or at bedtime, or if there is prolonged demand for breastfeeding.

Tooth decay is caused by bacteria that are present in a thin film of plaque that constantly forms on the teeth. The bacteria in plaque use sugar to produce acid that attacks tooth enamel. Tooth decay can occur after repeated acid attacks. For example, if a bottle containing sugary liquid is used as a pacifier many times a day, the teeth experience more acid attacks. Allowing a child to fall asleep with a bottle can also harm teeth. During sleep, the flow of saliva decreases and harmful sugary liquids collect and remain around the teeth.

Prevention is the key to healthier teeth for babies. Caregivers should watch what they give babies between regular feedings. Don't use a bottle as a pacifier or to help a baby sleep unless it contains plain water. Don't dip pacifiers in sweet liquids, and don't add sugar to baby food. Another tip is to teach babies how to drink from a cup starting as early as age 6 months to help prevent tooth decay.

For more information on oral health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now have available a new “National Oral Health Surveillance System” Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/nohss that includes oral health data and answers to questions on oral conditions and oral health care. The site includes links to federal, state, and professional resources on oral health.

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