Dear Patients, 

We often hear questions asking, what is the correct age to bring a child to the dentist?  Many parents think that the child’s baby teeth will soon fall out so why bother with a dentist.  We believe this article which covers these issues, does a good job explaining about children and cavities.  We recommend each of you reading it to help your understanding. 

Dr. Cristina B Georgescu and Dr. Eileen Dano Calamia

If you think your child is too young to visit the dentist, you're wrong—her teeth are at risk long before she tastes her first piece of candy. 

By Rebecca Felsenthal, Parents Magazine

Parents often assume that kids get cavities because they're lax about brushing and flossing. That's true to an extent, but what few people know is that tooth decay is a disease known as “dental caries.” It’s caused by specific germs, spreads easily within families, and can last a lifetime. Dental caries is more common among young children than any other chronic illness, including asthma and diabetes. In fact, about 42% of children aged 2 to 11 have had dental caries affecting primary teeth, according to The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.  Here’s what you need to know about cavities in babies, toddlers, and children.

What Causes Cavities in Toddlers and Children?

Tooth decay begins with a group of germs called mutans streptococcus. "The bacteria feed on sugar and produce acid that eats away at the structure of teeth by depleting calcium," explains Parents advisor Burton Edelstein, D.D.S., founding director of the Children's Dental Health Project. The bacteria can be found in plaque—a yellowish film that builds up on teeth and contains even more enamel-eroding acid. Once an area without calcium becomes big enough, the surface of the tooth collapses, and that's a cavity.

Babies are born without any of these harmful bacteria in their mouth, and studies have proven that moms (rather than dads) typically infect their children before age 2. It happens when you transfer your saliva into your child's mouth—by repeatedly eating from the same spoon as your baby, for example, or letting your toddler brush his teeth with your toothbrush. And if you've frequently had cavities yourself, you're particularly likely to pass the germs along. 

Once a child's mouth has become colonized with mutans, he'll be prone to cavities in his baby and permanent teeth that can cause pain and difficulty eating. "It's an old wives' tale that 'soft teeth' run in families, but what's really passed along in families are high levels of decay-causing bacteria," says Dr. Edelstein. In fact, 80 percent of all cavities occur in just 25 percent of kids. The key role that bacteria plays in decay may also explain why some kids who eat tons of candy or never floss are lucky enough to avoid dental problems.

If you've had trouble with your teeth, you need to take responsibility for your child's dental health—just like you'd be vigilant if you've had a family history of high cholesterol or skin cancer. Unfortunately, antibiotics can't get rid of the cavity-causing bacteria in your child's mouth. That's why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) actually urges pediatricians to ask parents about their own dental history by the time their baby is 6 months old, and to recommend taking extra precautions if a child is at high risk.

When Should My Child See a Dentist?

Your child should see a dentist by his first birthday, according to recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Association (AAPD) and the AAP. If you wait until your child is older, decay can be well underway: About 28 percent of 2-to 5-year-olds have cavities in primary teeth, according to The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

However, most parents don't know they should make an appointment for their baby. "Not all pediatricians look out for a toddler's oral health, and some doctors don't even look at the teeth," says Paul Casamassimo, D.D.S., professor of pediatric dentistry at the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health in Columbus. But it's important to treat cavities in baby teeth: These first teeth serve as space holders for permanent teeth, so losing one prematurely can cause alignment problems that will need to be corrected with braces later.

Although you may worry that your little one will never sit still and open her mouth, the first dental visit will be quick. The dentist can easily spot the telltale plaque buildup along the top gum line that's a sign of mutans.