What is baby bottle tooth decay?

November 23, 2015

What is baby bottle tooth decay?
Baby Bottle Tooth Caries
Early Childhood Cavities
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Mothers should not put their babies to sleep with a bottle of sugary drinks. There is a high risk of developing early childhood caries also known as baby bottle tooth decay.

Even though your child’s early teeth are temporary, they are important and still susceptible to tooth decay. In fact, dental decay is the most common chronic infectious disease of early childhood. This is why you need to start good dental hygiene habits early, to help prevent baby bottle tooth decay and other oral infections.


What Causes Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

When sweetened liquids like milk and formula frequently enter your child’s mouth, sugars get trapped in plaque (a sticky combination of saliva and bacteria that adheres to teeth). The bacteria break down the natural sugars and produce an acid byproduct that attacks the enamel. Every time your child consumes juice, soda, formula, and other sweets the process recurs and causes cavities, infections, and numerous other problems. Baby bottle decay often occurs when children are sent to bed or nap time with bottles of milk or juice. Saliva flow decreases, the sugary liquid pools in the mouth, and acids attack the teeth for extended period of time. Early childhood caries are also common in breast-fed infants with prolonged feeding habits and infants who have their pacifiers often dipped in sugar, syrup, and honey.


Why Worry About Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

Baby teeth fall out anyway, so there is no need to worry about cavities, right? Wrong! Early childhood caries can impact your child’s oral health for the rest of the life. Not only can a cavity cause sensitivity and pain, but severely decayed teeth might require early extraction. Think of primary teeth as space holders. If primary teeth come out too soon because of baby bottle tooth decay, remaining teeth could move out of place and not leave room for adult teeth to come in. Instead adult teeth grow in out of alignment and cause more problems down the line. Severe cavities are also linked to several systematic diseases (like heart disease) and could also lead to life-threatening infections.


Signs of Decay or Infection

What does baby bottle tooth decay look like? Well, unlike cavities in permanent teeth that are hidden in the crevices or between teeth, baby bottle tooth decay usually occurs on the most visible portion of front teeth. The condition then moves to bottom teeth, and then finally attacks molars. In the early stages the dentist can detect and then treat baby bottle tooth decay with simple restorative procedures. However, if the condition progresses to the point where decay breaches the enamel, the process of decay accelerates and requires more extensive treatments. Take your child to the dentist or health care provider as soon as possible if they experience the following:

  1. White spots on enamel, especially along the gumline of prominent teeth
  2. Dark or black spots on teeth
  3. Swollen or bleeding gums
  4. Sores on the gums
  5. Fever, swelling, and irritability often indicates infection
  6. Bad breath


Treatments for Early Childhood Caries

These options depend your child’s age and the severity of their condition. Early signs of decay often include white spots on the buccal surface of the enamel on upper front teeth. At this stage the dentist might recommend fluoride therapy to help remineralize and strengthen the enamel. This process reverses the effects of decay and helps naturally protect the teeth. You can also make some dietary changes that might help, like reducing sugary and acidic foods. If a cavity forms or decay spreads, you and your child might face more extensive restorations and treatments. The dentist uses early tooth extraction as a last resort.


Tips for Preventing Baby Bottle Rot

The best approach is prevention. Want to help take care of your child’s teeth? Here are a few thing you should do:

1. Take care of your own oral health.  That way you are less likely to pass around the harmful, cavity causing bacteria. Also do not lick or clean your child’s pacifier, utensils, or bottle with your own saliva.

2. Help your child with routine dental care. From birth to 12 months old you should wash your child’s gums and teeth after every feeding. Do this by gently wiping them with a warm washcloth. From 12 to 36 months old, as more teeth arrive, you should switch to an infant safe toothbrush and fluoride free toothpaste and help them brush two times a day.

3. Serve milk only at meal times. And save juice and other sugary drinks for special occasions only. Also, you should dilute any sugary drinks with water (half and half) and limit the quantity to 4 ounces per day. Remember, cavities come from quantity and frequency of sugar intake, as well as how long the substance remains in the mouth.

4. Give your child water in their bottle or cup during the day. This not only helps quench their thirst, but increases saliva flow and helps rinse harmful bacteria and sugar from the mouth more frequently.

5. Limit sweets, starches, and sticky foods. Things like candy, gummies, cookies, chips, and cereals stick to teeth and increase your child’s risk of dental decay. Instead offer cavity combative foods like cheese, eggs, and vegetables at snack time.

6. Make an appointment for your child before their first birthday. Many parents feel this is too early for their child’s first dental visit. Truth is, your child’s teeth are at risk from the minute they pop through the gumline. By visiting the dentist early you can help your child get acquainted with the dentist and learn how to keep the teeth healthy. The dentist can also provide preventative dental treatments like sealants and fluoride therapy. These early efforts will make all future appointments more pleasant experiences.

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