An eight-year old's deciduous teeth.

An eight-year old’s deciduous (baby) teeth. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can Children Get Cavities in Their Baby Teeth?

Yes, children can get cavities in their baby teeth.

Are gummy bear vitamins bad for your teeth?

Raisins and dried fruit, like dried mango and apricot?

Bottled water?

Sippy cups?

How Did I Find Out About Raisins?

My best friend’s husband was a pediatric dentist, a dentist who specializes in working with children.

We were talking one day about what I thought was my very healthy habit of giving my son small boxes of raisins as snacks.

“Oh, raisins are the worst,” he told me.

“Really? Why?” I replied in disbelief.

“The sticky, dried fruit coats the teeth and then keeps sugar on them, like glue, for hours,” he informed me.

It was one of many times I learned that what I thought, had been taught, or seemed reasonable for the health of my children wasn’t necessarily so.

And, this happened not long after I’d recoiled in horror on seeing a young mother routinely give her toddler son Kool-Aid to drink.

Kool-Aid is a fruit juice-based powder to which you add sugar and water that was popular in my childhood.

Invented by Edwin Perkins in Nebraska in 1927, the state still holds an annual Kool-Aid Days summer festival in August and claims Kool-Aid as its official state soft drink.

And, sure, like anything else, in moderation it might be OK.

But, this young mother friend of mine was giving it to her son every day, instead of milk or water, whenever he was thirsty during long, hot summer days.

By five, he had his first cavity.

My friend’s husband had just informed me that raisins, which I thought of as a healthy fruit, after all, might be just as bad.

Since then, sugar and I have had a mixed relationship.

I used to keep candy in my desk to share at work.

But, I tried to limit sugar for my children.

We rarely had desserts for this reason and because my husband preferred fruit as a dessert.

I made cookies or brownies only if there was an event I was taking them to and gave everyone in the family one or two before I packed them up.

I continued to put sugar on my cereal, but, when my second son came along, I did it in the kitchen, out of his sight.

Until, one day, he saw me. He was about two.

“Mom, what are you putting on your cereal?”


“May I have some, too?”

There are some things, I could have answered, that he must wait for until he was older, but, I decided to let him in on my guilty pleasure.

Still, I continued to try to reduce sugar at home.

He did not have his first cavity until he was 12.

With my grandchildren, I am even more determined to limit sugar when they visit.

Perhaps, because they don’t live with me, it is easier to limit sugar for short periods of time.

Finally, I decided to check with the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists (AAPD) to see what their current recommendations are.

They recommend that you brush your teeth twice a day.

Here are their overriding principles.

Some I could have guessed. Some were surprises.

Which ones surprise you?

Eating or Drinking Should Be Confined to Meals and Snacks, Not All Day Long

It’s the constant exposure to food, whether sugary or not, that exposes teeth to damage.

Saliva cannot do its job of helping to clean teeth naturally when they are constantly exposed to small amounts of food or liquid.

Even letting a baby breast-feed off-and-on all day, instead of on a regular schedule can promote tooth decay.

Letting a toddler walk around with a sippy cup all day with anything but water keeps the teeth exposed to the bacteria that can lead to cavities.

If you decide to give yourself a treat and eat a chocolate bar, don’t stretch it out over several hours.

Just eat it.

Sweets should be limited to eating with meals, and not every day.

Sugar is the number one culprit in feeding the bacteria that lead to tooth decay.

Soft, starchy foods, like crackers and cereal and dried fruit, like raisins, even gummy bear vitamins are next, like my pediatric dentist friend warned me, because they fix the sugar to your teeth for a prolonged period.

At a minimum, eating sugary treats after eating other foods gives your mouth the chance to help wash the bacteria away with saliva.

Don’t trade spit.

The bacteria that leads to cavities cannot be killed with antibiotics.

But, it can be passed to others.

Mothers who lick their baby’s pacifier to clean it or take turns eating from their spoon risk passing on the bacteria that causes cavities.

I never got in the habit of sucking on my baby’s pacifier.

If it fell on the floor, I didn’t want the germs either, so I washed it.

And, for some reason, I never tried to coax them to eat by eating from their spoon.

I did, however, let them sip from my glass from time to time.

Don’t give a baby a bottle at night unless it has water in it.

Letting a baby sip on a bottle of milk, even breast milk, or formula or juice all night bathes their teeth in sugar for 8 hours.

Babies shouldn’t be put down with a bottle, unless it’s water.

The AAPD recommends weaning a baby off a bottle, in any case, by 14 months.

For older children, for the same reason, they should not have sweets right before bedtime.

Cavities run in families.

20% of children get 80% of the cavities.

40% of 2-5-year-olds have cavities.

The bacteria that leads to cavities can be passed within families from sharing eating utensils.

I’ve got cavities. I thought it was a normal part of growing up.

I understood the first half of the equation – cavities come from bacteria that feeds on sugar.

I didn’t know about the second part – that cavity-promoting bacteria is passed to children from someone who has cavities.

You can reduce the risk by making sure you don’t share spoons or cups.

Didn’t Putting Fluoride in Our Drinking Water Eliminate Cavities?

Fluoridating the water supply in the U.S. has prevented 40% of the cavities we would have had otherwise.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control calls it one of the top ten 20th century’s medical miracles, along with vaccinations, the recognition of tobacco as a health hazard, and improved car safety, like seat belts and car seats for children.

The American Dental Association calls it one of the most beneficial and cost-effective measures for controlling, and sometimes reversing, tooth decay.

But, the program to add fluoride to public water supplies has always been controversial.

Public water fluoridation started in the 1940s after a dentist, Dr. Frederick McKay, noticed an unusual pattern of stained teeth in Colorado Springs, Colorado and St. Louis.

He also found a very low incidence of cavities. His research and that of a chemist at ALCOA led to the discovery of high levels of fluoride in the natural water supply.

Further research was conducted to determine safe levels of fluoride that would retain the beneficial effect of reducing cavities while avoiding the effect of staining teeth with white or brown streaks, the symptom that had led to the initial research.

In the 1940s, eight towns with and without fluoride added to their water were paired in studies to compare results.

Grand Rapids, Michigan, was the first community to add fluoride to their drinking water to prevent cavities, initiating their program on January 25, 1945.

Results were convincing to many, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that every state fluoridated their water.

And, still, many communities do not.

Seventy-two percent of the U.S. population now lives in areas with fluoridated water.

It ranges considerably by state.

In Kentucky, the top-ranked state, 99.6 percent of the population has fluoridated water.

In Utah, the 50th-ranked state, 2.2 percent of the population has fluoridated water.

Potential risks, such as bone cancer, have not been shown to be the problem some initially feared.

Fluoride appears to increase bone strength.

Children under 8 who have too much fluoride can develop a condition called dental fluorosis that shows up as white streaks, or in extreme cases, brown streaks in their permanent teeth, as had been noted in Colorado Springs.

But, this typically happens when children are drinking water from wells with water that naturally has high levels of fluoride, or use and swallow fluoridated toothpaste, as very young children sometimes do, or take fluoride supplements, not when they have access to public water supplies with low levels of fluoride.

Parents should be alert that bottled water typically does not have fluoride.

Thus, their children may not be getting the benefits of fluoridated water if they are primarily drinking bottled water.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Grandchildren?

My takeaway from the AADP recommendations was this:

Bacteria + Sugar + Time = Cavities.

You can disrupt any of these factors.

Bacteria: reduce exposure by not sharing eating utensils with young children.

Sugar: reduce exposure by not having sugar every day and having it only after meals

Time: reduce exposure by brushing twice a day.

Fluoride: increase protection by making sure you have access to fluoride, preferably and most easily and cheaply, in water.

Do you help your grandchildren brush their teeth when they visit?

Do you help them limit their sweets?

Did you know cavities came from bacteria?

To you and keeping your grandchildren’s beautiful smiles.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


Enhanced by Zemanta