Biological mechanisms of early childhood caries

Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. 1998;26(1 Suppl):8-27. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0528.1998.tb02090.x.


The present paper reviews biological issues in early childhood caries (ECC) in light of the current understanding of the field. Despite the general global decline in dental caries in the past decades, ECC has become a significant problem in many developing countries and some minority communities in western industrialized nations. Like other types of caries, ECC is caused by mutans streptococci that ferment dietary carbohydrates to produce acid attacks on susceptible teeth over a period of time. However, while the general etiology of ECC appears similar to that of other types of caries, the predisposing factors are still unclear. The biology of ECC may be modified by several factors unique to young children, related to the implantation of cariogenic bacteria, immaturity of the host defense systems, as well as behavioral patterns associated with feeding and oral hygiene in early childhood.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acids / metabolism
  • Age Factors
  • Biology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dental Caries / etiology*
  • Dental Caries / immunology
  • Dental Caries Susceptibility
  • Dental Plaque / microbiology
  • Developed Countries
  • Developing Countries
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism
  • Feeding Methods
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Food
  • Oral Hygiene
  • Risk Factors
  • Saliva / immunology
  • Saliva / physiology
  • Streptococcus mutans / metabolism
  • Streptococcus mutans / physiology


  • Acids
  • Dietary Carbohydrates