What’s baby bottle tooth decay?
Baby bottle tooth decay is a dental problem that develops in infants, especially infants that are put to bed with a bottle containing a sweet liquid. Baby bottle tooth decay is also called nursing-bottle caries and bottle-mouth syndrome. Bottles containing liquids such as milk, formula, fruit juices, sweetened drink mixes, and sugar water continuously bathe an infant's mouth with sugar. The bacteria in the mouth use this sugar to produce acid that destroys the child's teeth. The upper front teeth are typically the ones most severely damaged; the lower front teeth are protected to some degree by the tongue. Pacifiers dipped in sugar, honey, corn syrup, or other sweetened liquids also contribute to baby bottle tooth decay. The first signs of damage are chalky white spots or lines across the teeth. As decay progresses, the damage to the child's teeth becomes more obvious.
How can I prevent baby bottle tooth decay?
First, never allow children to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, juice or other sweetened liquids. Then, be sure to clean and massage the baby's gums once a day to help establish healthy teeth and to aid in teething. Wrap a moistened gauze square or washcloth around the finger and gently massage the gums and gingival tissues.
Plaque removal activities should begin when the first baby tooth erupts. When brushing a child's teeth, use a soft toothbrush and a pea-shaped amount of toothpaste. Before a child can spit, be sure to use non-fluoride toothpaste. However, once a child is able to spit, you should use fluoride toothpaste. Parents should first bring their child to the dentist when the child is between 6 and 12 months old.
Will changes in my child's diet help prevent baby bottle tooth decay?
Preventing baby bottle tooth decay can involve changes in a child's diet. A series of small changes over a period of time is usually easier, and eventually leads to better oral health.
To incorporate these changes:
- Gradually dilute the bottle contents with water over a period of two to three weeks.
- Once that period is over, if you give a child a bottle, fill it with water or give the child a clean pacifier recommended by a dentist. The only safe liquid to put in a bottle to prevent baby bottle tooth decay is water.
- Decrease consumption of sugar, especially between meals.
- Children should be weaned from the bottle as soon as they can drink from a cup, but the bottle should not be taken away too soon, since the sucking motion aids in the development of facial muscles, as well as the tongue.
Why should I be worried about baby bottle tooth decay?
Giving an infant a sugary drink at nap or nighttime is harmful because during sleep, the flow of saliva decreases, allowing the sugary liquids to linger on the child's teeth for an extended period of time. If left untreated, pain and infection can result. Severely decayed teeth may need to be extracted. If teeth are infected or lost too early due to baby bottle tooth decay, your child may develop poor eating habits, speech problems, crooked teeth and damaged adult teeth. Healthy baby teeth will usually result in healthy permanent teeth.