My child seems to have bad enamel. Bad enamel runs in our family, so what do we do?

Well, bad enamel or missing enamel – there are rare conditions where a child may be missing their enamel, there are genetic conditions but they are quite rare. Another reason a child might have poor quality enamel is if they were ill as an infant and given antibiotics or perhaps born prematurely. There are some types of antibiotics that can affect the development of the teeth and particularly the enamel.

Most of the time however, what parents think is bad enamel that runs in the family, is in fact a commonality in the type of diet that everyone in the family has. Generally this will relate to beverages containing sugar such as juice (even 100% real fruit juices still contain natural sugars), pop, Coke, Sprite, 7 Up, orange pop, milk and breast milk in particular, these do contain natural sugars.

Now it is the quantity, but more so the frequency, that the child is ingesting these sugar containing beverages. If the child for instance, were having one glass of juice a day but they were able to have it in a sippy cup and it was available to them, what we call ‘on demand’, so all day long whenever they were thirsty they could just sip out of that same cup. That child we would tend to see develop cavities. Where as a child who had one glass of juice, they had it their meal times or snack time and they drank the entire glass in one sitting and that was it, would tend to not have cavities.

Now the reason for this is – the mouth attempts to maintain a neutral PH at all times. When a sugary beverage is ingested the PH level becomes acidic. That acidic environment is what starts the process of enamel breakdown which is the first stage of a cavity. So for that child who is a continuous snacker or a sipper of their beverage all day long, the mouth cannot recover from this acidic environment and we start to see the beginning of enamel breakdown. And in the case of this being the breast milk example, we see this with ‘on demand’ breastfeeding at night. So the child wakes up in the middle of the night, in order to soothe them back to sleep they are breast fed and that milk residue is left in their mouth for the next two to four hours before they are breast fed again and that residue left in the mouth, creates an acidic environment which can also cause enamel breakdown.