Early Childhood Caries: Tooth Decay in Children

Tooth decay in children can become a serious issue if not addressed in time. Learn about the causes of early childhood caries, or tooth decay in children under the age of six, and how to prevent it.

Tooth Decay in Children

Tooth decay is a bacterial disease of the teeth that can occur at any age, as long as teeth are present.

Early childhood caries (ECC) is a common term used by dentists to describe early childhood tooth decay in children under the age of six. Severe ECC is diagnosed for children under three years old who show signs of tooth decay.

This chronic disease usually takes months to develop; a common early sign of the disease is the appearance of a white, opaque, chalky line on the tooth at the point when the tooth meets the gums. If not addressed, symptoms will eventually progress, breaking down and forming a hole in the affected tooth.

What Causes Tooth Decay in Children?

Causes of early childhood caries include bacteria which lead to tooth decay, poor oral hygiene and poor dietary habits. Some other factors include ineffective tooth brushing, consuming milk, juice, or any sweet substance multiple times throughout the night and letting the child fall asleep while drinking from a bottle filled with these substances.  

Early Childhood Caries Treatment

Primary teeth or “baby” teeth are important for eating, speech development, and appearance. They also help to maintain enough space for permanent adult teeth to grow in.

Children should begin to lose their front baby teeth at the age of six and their back baby teeth just before turning 10. If early childhood tooth decay is not treated, the cavities will continue to worsen and may cause pain before the baby teeth are due to fall out.

Although rare, some children may develop a facial swelling from the infected tooth which will require immediate medical attention and hospitalisation. Serious early childhood caries treatment may include administering intravenous antibiotics and dental surgery to remove the bad tooth and pus.

How Do You Prevent Tooth Decay in Children?

Early childhood tooth decay may be prevented by maintaining good oral health habits. These include good dietary habits like avoiding high-sugar drinks and frequent snacking, effective tooth brushing and regular dentist visits. 

The Society for Paediatric Dentistry, Singapore recommends that all children should start seeing the dentist by no later than 12 months of age. At this visit, the dentist will assess your child and often will formulate a customised oral health home care programme based on your child’s risk of developing tooth decay.

Visit Parent Hub, for more useful tips and guides to give your child a healthy start.

Article contributed by the Society for Paediatric Dentistry, Singapore

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