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Dental Caries in Infants and Children: Implications and Prevention

Infants’ teeth begin to erupt around the age of 6 months, but some children do not have their first tooth until 12 to 14 months. Most children have their first full set of teeth by age 3. These primary teeth (baby teeth) are susceptible to decay as soon as they appear in the oral cavity (mouth), and dental caries matter more than most people think.


The Ministry of Health considers early childhood caries to be one of the chronic disease affecting young children. Dental Caries in infants or early childhood caries is often referred to as baby bottle tooth decay. The decay may be so severe that the affected tooth may need extraction. When primary teeth are lost too early, the surrounding teeth may drift into the empty space. This movement makes it difficult for the permanent teeth to have proper room for eruption, causing these teeth to be crooked or crowded.

Oral Hygiene Home Care

Parents may begin cleaning their infant’s mouth during the first few days of birth by wiping the gums with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth. When teeth begin to erupt into the oral cavity (mouth), the parent may gently brush the infant’s teeth twice a day with a child-size toothbrush with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste added. After brushing, it is encouraged that the child spits out the toothpaste. Flossing should begin once two teeth come in contact.

Parents should care for their child’s teeth until they feel comfortable that the child is able to care for his or her own teeth. Starting children early with good oral hygiene can lead to a lifetime of good dental health.


An inadequate amount of fluoride may increase an infant’s risk for early childhood caries. Fluoride strengthens the enamel of teeth, making them more resistant to decay. It is found in toothpaste, mouthrinses and often added to community tap water. Parents should discuss with a dentist or pediatrician the fluoride needs of their child. Fluoride supplementation may be recommended.


Increased risk for dental caries has been affirmed to be associated with an excessive intake of sugar by an expert panel of the World Health Organization.

Nutritional recommendations for infants include:

  • Providing the infant only formula, milk or breast milk in bottles. Liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks should be avoided.
  • Infants should also finish their bedtime and nap time bottles before going to bed.
  • A pacifier should never be dipped in sugar or honey.
  • The child should be encouraged to drink from a cup by his first birthday.
  • During the transition to solid foods, parents should provide nutritious foods.

Following these recommendations will reduce the amount of sugar exposure to the infant’s teeth.

When a child’s first tooth appears, parents should discuss with their dentist/dental therapist about scheduling the first dental visit. Plunket also refers children to a Community Dental Clinic in your area before the age of 2. Once there, the dental team will be able to provide proper guidance on how to care for the child’s teeth.

At Pathway Dental we offer FREE dental service for adolescents (high school year 9 to age 18). Adolescents will receive the same full range of dental treatment options and the same quality of dental care that we enjoy providing to all of our other clients.

Furthermore, being registered with the Ministry of Health, we are also able to provide FREE urgent/emergency dental care for children under 13 years of age. Painful teeth, sore gums, swelling, accidents, broken sharp etc all constitute as an urgent dental need.

We are open 7 DAYS for all your dental need, please give us a call on 03 366 8866 if we could be of any help.