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February - Early Childhood Caries

Image of Margo Kerrigan Margo Kerrigan, M.P.H, Area Director

Indian Health Service California Area Office




Early Childhood Caries

Early Childhood Caries is a devastating problem in young children. Not only can it cause pain and loss of teeth, but it also affects self-esteem, speech development, nutrition, and school attendance. Early Childhood Caries (ECC) is any tooth decay in a child under 6 years of age. While some children may only have one tooth that is decayed, and some may have multiple teeth that are decayed (as shown in the picture below) it is important to understand that tooth decay in childhood is not normal and can be prevented.

Photo image of teeth with caries disease

Preventing ECC is difficult because many things contribute to this disease process. ECC is an infectious disease that can start as soon as an infant’s teeth erupt. ECC can progress rapidly and may have a lasting detrimental impact on a child’s health and well-being. ECC is a serious health problem. “The 2010 Basic Screening Survey of 0-5 year-old American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) children showed that by age five, 75% of children had experienced dental caries, more than double the general U.S. population. Additionally, by age two, 44% of AI/AN children have experienced dental caries.

The Indian Health Service (IHS) Early Childhood Caries (ECC) Collaborative was designed to draw attention to this problem.  The Collaborative is a multi-faceted program designed to enhance knowledge about early childhood caries prevention and early intervention among not only dental providers, but also all healthcare providers and the community. The collaborative provides the entire healthcare team with the tools to begin a successful ECC program. Increasing access to oral health care and evidence-based prevention is a collaborative effort that must include the oral health care team, medical providers, Community Health Representatives, Head Start staff, and Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) program staff. The Collaborative also provides the framework to dental providers for ECC early intervention focusing on "caries stabilization".

As a parent here is how you can help make a difference in our fight against ECC:


  • Get a dental check-up and ask your dentist what you can do to lower the bacteria that cause cavities in your own mouth.
  • Brush twice daily with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Eat a healthy diet and limit sweets and sodas.
  • Lift the lip and look for chalky white or brown spots. Go to the dentist if you see signs of cavities.
  • Brush baby’s teeth twice daily with a smear of fluoride toothpaste beginning when the fi rst tooth comes in.
  • Put baby in bed without a bottle and wean from the bottle around 12 months of age.
  • Feed your baby a healthy diet and limit sweets and sodas.
  • Ask about fluoride varnish treatments to protect your baby’s teeth from cavities.
  • Get a dental check-up for your child.
  • Brush your child’s teeth twice daily with a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste.
  • Ask about fluoride varnish treatments to protect your child’s teeth from cavities.
  • Feed your child a healthy diet and limit sweets


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