Are cavities a result of genetics? Should we resign ourselves to a mouthful of cavities because our parents had “bad teeth?” I hear this all the time, and there isn’t a simple answer. Some people have softer teeth that are prone to greater decay, and pin their dental problems on genetics. Others place the blame squarely on diet and oral health. While I’m inclined to argue for the latter, there are two considerations: 1) bacteria remain the biggest culprit in tooth decay; and 2) parents play an important role in developing good oral hygiene habits.
Infants and Bacteria
When it comes to your infant child, proper oral care is important. Admittedly it can be difficult to brush and floss teeth that have yet to arrive, but we can take steps to ensure that the mouths of our youngsters stay relatively free of decay-causing bacteria.
Cavities occur when bacteria in the mouth break down sugars and create acids. These acids then erode tooth enamel, eventually creating cavities. After birth an infant’s mouth is introduced to bacteria through contact with their parents. The sharing of spoons, forks and cups is a primary cause, along with close contact through play and day-to-day affection.
The number and type of bacteria depend on the condition of the mouths of parents and those in close contact with the child. For this reason it’s important for parents to maintain good oral hygiene in this stage of an infant’s life.
Habits And More Habits
Oral hygiene and good eating habits are learned behaviours. Kids watch what we do, and eventually do what we do. Parents must remember their role in developing these important behaviours and take care to set a good example. There’s no question that this is a tough task, particularly with eating, but in the early stages of a child’s life it’s crucial that these habits take shape.
Reducing intake of sugars and fermentable carbohydrates is good for a child’s oral and physical health. While you may think that it doesn’t matter if cavities develop on baby teeth, remember: it’s the habits that matter. They may take time to develop, but just like potty training, your children will thank you for your efforts in the long run!