What is Early Childhood Caries and how common is it?

Early childhood caries is a chronic bacterial disease of the teeth. Streptococcus Mutans is the scientific name of the main oral bacteria that causes cavities. Dental decay/cavities is caused by the release of acidic products from the bacteria, which dissolve the minerals in the teeth. When this is allowed to occur over an extended period of time, there will be a point where a critical mass of minerals is lost from the tooth and a hole/cavity appears. It usually affects the child’s upper front teeth first and can occur as soon as the teeth erupt. In Singapore, 50% of 5-6 year old children have this condition.

What causes children to get Early Childhood Caries?

  • Prolonged use of the milk bottle with formula milk or sweetened liquids (e.g. to help the child sleep).
  • On demand breast-feeding, and allowing the child to fall asleep while breast-feeding.
  • Not brushing the child’s teeth properly.
  • Decay-causing bacteria can be passed from mother/caregiver to child. This risk of caries is higher if the mother/caregiver has poor oral health.

Why should I worry if my child has decay? My child’s teeth are going to fall out anyway.

Diseased and broken down baby teeth can cause difficulty chewing and severe pain. This can affect your child’s sleep and growth. Severe tooth infections may be life-threatening, and can result in your child needing hospitalization and expensive treatment. A good set of baby teeth enables your child to chew food easily so that they can grow well, learn to speak clearly and look good. Baby teeth also hold the spaces for future permanent teeth, so that they can erupt into good positions.

How do I prevent my child from getting Early Childhood Caries?

1.Maintaining good oral health for yourself.

2.As soon as your child is born:

  • Wipe your child’s gums after feeds.
  • Avoid filling your child’s bottle with sweet liquids.
  • Do not allow your child to fall asleep with the bottle.
  • Avoid sharing food and eating utensils with your child.
  • Start brushing your child’s teeth as soon as his or her first tooth erupts.
  • Attending early dental check-ups – The Society for Paediatric Dentistry, Singapore recommends that a child’s first dental visit should occur shortly after the first tooth erupts and no later than 12 months of age.


Article contributed by Dr. Tong HJ, Updated on August 9th 2015