Early Childhood Caries (ECC) – What is it and how to prevent it?

Early childhood caries, also formally known as baby bottle tooth decay or nursing bottle caries is one of the most common type of tooth decay seen in infants and toddlers. It is most commonly seen preventable disease in children younger than the age of 6 years.

What is Early Childhood Caries?

Any cavity, of any tooth in any child, younger than 6 years of age is know as Early Childhood Caries.

Severe Early Childhood Caries (S-ECC) is any cavity on the smooth surface of the tooth of a child who is younger than 3 years of age.

So, any tooth that has a cavity in it, in a child less than 6 years of age can be considered under the early childhood caries and parents need to take care to take preventive measure to stop the spread to the other teeth.

But the question is…

Why does the ECC Occur?

There are a number of factors which lead to ECC and parents play an important role in preventing it to occur. As soon as the child’s tooth erupts it is susceptible to decay. So, it is our duty to do our best to take care of these tiny teeth.

  • The main reason for the decay of kids teeth at such an early age is the night feeds, especially the bottle feed. A child should never go to sleep with a bottle in the mouth containing anything other than water. Any juice or milk in the bottle can lead to formation of a layer over the teeth which acts as the main source of bacteria to accumulate and cause the decay.
  • The milk teeth i.e. the primary teeth are as important as adult teeth. So, brushing of teeth should start as soon as the first tooth erupts in the mouth of your baby. In fact, the cleaning of babies gums and teeth should start immediately after birth using a clean cotton cloth or a gauze piece wrapped around the finger.
  • The first dental visit of a child should be at the child’s first birthday or, within 6 months of the eruption of the first tooth. In case there is any problem, the dentist will let you know and you can take care further on according to the advise.

Never blow on your child’s food, as the bacteria from your mouth can be transferred to your child’s mouth and these bacteria are responsible for the decay of teeth.

How can ECC be prevented?

Early childhood caries can be prevented by taking care of a number of factors.

  • Never Let your Child sleep with a bottle in the mouth: First and foremost is not to let your child sleep with a bottle filled with juice, milk or any other sweetened liquid. This reduces the chance of ECC tremendously.
  • Brushing of Teeth: Start brushing your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth erupts in the mouth. Brushing can be started using a normal silicone finger brush and slowly can shift to a kids age appropriate tooth brush.
    The American Academy of Pediatric dentistry recommends, that the brushing of kids teeth should be done with a grain size of fluoridated toothpaste as soon as the first tooth erupts in the oral cavity.
dental article pediatric

A grain size of tooth paste should be used till the age of 3 years and a pea size after the age of 3 years.

You can click the link below and know the exciting ways to help your child start brushing his or her teeth.

The most important and the best way to help your brush teeth by starting early.

  • First Dental Visit: The first dental visit of your child should be at his or her first birthday or, within the first 6 months of the eruption of the first tooth.
    An annual dental check up is important to prevent any tooth decay or any other problem that might be present. Something that is caught early can be treated better.
    In case your child has even a single cavity and is diagnosed by your dentist and treated, it can help in further preventing the spread of infection. May be a normal filling (or restoration) will suffice if consulted early and your child is saved from a slightly intensive procedure like a root canal.
first dental visit

To read more about the first dental visit (which should be mandatory), cick the link below.

  • Sharing of Food: Never share food with your child or blow on your child’s food to warm it. This leads to transfer of bacteria from your mouth to your child’s mouth which is the cause of cavities.

How can ECC be Treated?

It is not uncommon to see kids with early childhood caries. May be the reason is lack of awareness among the parents, and an old thinking that the primary teeth i.e. the milk teeth are not very important as they will eventually be replaced by permanent teeth. Actually, milk teeth are as important as the permanent teeth are and also form a path for the eruption of the permanent.

Once the cavity or cavities occur, they can be treated by either a general dentist or a pedodontist. If your toddler is having multiple cavities and is unco-operative, the best thing to do is visit a Pedodontist as they are specialist in dealing with the kids dental care, and know very well how to make the kid co-operate and get the treatment done.

The cavities can be filled if they are not very deep and in case deep i.e. approaching the pulp (the center part of the tooth which has all the nerves and blood vessels) a root canal treatment can be done.

If there is just a few cavities the treatment can be done under local anesthesia, if there are more or the full mouth is involved the the treatment might need to be done either under conscious sedation or general anesthesia.

If required a simple fluoride application or pit and fissure sealant can be done to prevent any cavities from forming.

In order to prevent our children from going through so much trouble, it is our duty to take care of their dental health as well, the same way as we keep a good check on their overall health.

Aren’t we always up to date about the vaccination schedule of our child ? Or, if they have a slightest of cold aren’t we worried and visiting a pediatrician stat? Then why not worrying about a cavity they have?? It is as important as any other slightest of health issue your child might have.

Happy Parenting!

3 thoughts on “Early Childhood Caries (ECC) – What is it and how to prevent it?

  1. Highly enlightening.You have done justice to the topic of ECC by your intelligent inputs and elaborate narration.

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