Are You Causing the Cavities On Your Toddler’s Teeth?

Are You Causing the Cavities On Your Toddler’s Teeth?

Do You Cause Your Child's Cavities?
©Sergey Nivens/

It’s sad to see a two year old child with horrible teeth.  At such a young age, children don’t really understand oral hygiene.  Many times, poor oral hygiene in a toddler is the result of parents who don’t understand oral hygiene.  Since most cavities are preventable, this topic fascinates me.  With children of my own,  I have done quite a bit of research on the oral hygiene of toddlers.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry publishes various “policy papers” which inform the world the status of their position on certain issues.  In their paper entitled Policy on Early Childhood Caries (ECC), they spell out five mistakes that parents make that can have a detrimental effect on the oral hygiene of their children.

I’ll list those five mistakes and talk about what you can do as a parent to avoid hurting your child’s teeth.

Smiling Toddler Girl With Teeth

Five Mistakes That Can Give Your Child Cavities

1 – Putting infants to sleep with a bottle that contains sugar. Pretty much any drink that you would give your child to lull them to sleep contains sugar.  Fruit juice and milk both contain sugars that can cause plaque to fluorish and eat away their teeth.

If you must put your child to sleep with a bottle, the only safe beverage to fill it with is water.

2 – Breast feeding on-demand after your baby’s first tooth comes in. The book Pediatric Dentistry by Pinkham states the following:

Infants who are breastfed truly “on demand” may suckle 10 to 40 times in a 24-hour period and are at risk for the consequences of prolonged acid production.  Nevertheless, many feel that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any harmful effects.  Dentists should advise mothers who breastfeed on demand to clean their infant’s teeth frequently, verify that systemic fluoride intake is optimal, and monitor dietary habits carefully.

Each time your baby eats, you expose his or her teeth to the harmful acids that plaque produces.  By setting a schedule to feed your baby, you can drastically reduce the opportunities that bacteria have to cause trouble in your child’s mouth.

3 – Not weaning your child from a bottle after they turn one. The American Academy of Pediatric dentistry says that “Parents should be encouraged to have infants drink from a cup as they approach their first birthday.  Infants should be weaned from the bottle at 12 to 14 months of age.”

When a child drinks out of a cup, they can drink the same quantity of liquid much more quickly than if they were drinking out of a bottle.  By not weaning your toddler from a bottle or sippy cup, you will increase the amount of time that their teeth are exposed to the sugar in their drinks, and increase their risk of getting cavities.

Although it may seem impossible to have your one-year-old child drink out of a cup, it is possible with the right training.   My wife and I began training our daughter to drink out of a small glass when she was 9 months old.  Her first glass was actually a shot glass with a small amount of water.  [Note: Neither my wife nor I drink alcohol, so we bought shot glasses for this very purpose.]  She still used this sippy cup to drink out of as well, but we gradually introduced a real glass, helping her at first.  After a while, she started to catch on.

Now, at fourteen months of age, she can independently drink out of this glass without spilling.  You might wonder why we used a real glass since it is breakable, but after she saw what happened when you drop it on the floor (which we promptly cleaned up) she hasn’t dropped another one!

4 – Habitually giving your child sugar-containing liquids in a bottle or no-spill training cup.

A paper by the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled The Use and Misuse of Fruit Juice in Pediatrics states:

It is prudent to give juice only to infants who can drink from a cup (approximately 6 months or older). Teeth begin to erupt at approximately 6 months of age. Dental caries have also been associated with juice consumption.  Prolonged exposure of the teeth to the sugars in juice is a major contributing factor to dental caries. The AAP and the American Academy of Pedodontics recommendations state that juice should be offered to infants in a cup, not a bottle, and that infants not be put to bed with a bottle in their mouth.  The practice of allowing children to carry a bottle, cup, or box of juice around throughout the day leads to excessive exposure of the teeth to carbohydrates, which promotes development of dental caries.

5 – Giving your child between-meal snacks and prolonged exposures to foods and juice or other beverages containing fermentable carbohydrates.

The Vipeholm Study was able to show us that it’s not just the amount of sugar that someone eats, but also the frequency with which the sugar is consumed that can cause tooth decay.

If you’re not sure what the Vipeholm Study is, you can read the article The Vipeholm Study: Learning About Dental Cavities.

If you can decrease the number of snacktimes that your child has per day, you will decrease the number of times that their teeth are weakened by the acidic by-products of plaque.


By following the above tips, you can ensure that your child will have healthy teeth.  Healthy teeth are valuable to a child’s self-esteem and overall health.  Following these tips can also start a habit of healthy eating that will remain with them throughout their life.

Do you have any questions or comments about your baby’s dental and oral health?  Please leave them below in the comments!



  1. What foods would be important to include or exclude (besides sugar based foods) to help prevent cavities and keep teeth strong? Would acidic and citrus fruits be useful to avoid? Would it be helpful to include homemade bone broths?

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