Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

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Baby Bottle Tooth Decay 

Maintaining the health of primary (baby) teeth is exceptionally important.  Although baby teeth will eventually be lost, they fulfill several important functions in the meantime.

Baby teeth help children enunciate and speak properly, help a child chew food correctly, maintain space for adult teeth, and help the tongue remain in a normal posture in the mouth.  When baby teeth are lost prematurely, adjacent teeth shift to fill the gap, the adult teeth underneath the gums are affected, and it increases the need for orthodontic treatment. 

Babies are at risk for tooth decay as soon as the first primary tooth emerges – usually around the age of six months.  For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends a “well-baby check up” with a dentist around the age of twelve months.

What is baby bottle tooth decay?

The term “baby bottle tooth decay” refers to early childhood caries (cavities), which can occur in infants and toddlers.  Baby bottle tooth decay may affect any of the child's teeth, but is most often seen in the upper front teeth.

If baby bottle tooth decay becomes too severe, Dr. Day may not be able to save the affected tooth.  In such cases, the damaged tooth is removed, and a space maintainer is provided to prevent misalignment of the remaining teeth.

How does baby bottle tooth decay start?

The most common cause of baby bottle tooth decay is frequent exposure to sweetened liquids.  These liquids include breast milk, baby formula, cow/soy/nut-based milk, juice, and sweetened water.

When a child drinks sweetened liquids before nap or bedtime, the sugars swirl around and remain on the teeth for an extended period of time while the child sleeps.  Your child's normally occurring oral bacteria feed on the sugar and emit harmful acids.  These acids wear away tooth enamel, resulting in cavities and pediatric tooth decay.

Infants and children who are not receiving an appropriate amount of fluoride are also at increased risk for tooth decay.  Fluoride works to protect tooth enamel, simultaneously reducing mineral loss and promoting remineralization.  At a regular office visit, Dr. Day can determine whether your child needs fluoride supplements.

What can I do at home to prevent baby bottle tooth decay?

  • Give your infant/child an opportunity to drink a bottle or sippy cup before getting in bed for nap or bedtime and then brush his/her teeth.  If the child insists taking a bottle to bed, fill the bottle with water instead of a sugary liquid.
  • Do not place sugary drinks in baby bottles or sippy cups.  Instead, use breast milk, formula, or water (if age appropriate).  Encourage an older child to use a regular cup (rather than a sippy cup).
  • Clean your infants gums after every feeding with a clean washcloth.
  • Use an appropriate toothbrush along with an ADA-approved toothpaste to brush when teeth begin to emerge.  Fluoride-free toothpaste is recommended for children age two and younger.
  • Use a pea-sized amount of ADA-approved fluoridated toothpaste for children age three and older and who have mastered the art of “spitting out” excess toothpaste. 
  • Do not dip pacifiers in sweet liquids (honey, etc.).
  • Review your child’s eating habits.  Reduce or eliminate sugary, starchy, and carbohydrate-filled snacks and encourage a healthy, nutritious diet.
  • Help clean your child’s teeth until he or she reaches the age of eight.  Before this time, children are often unable to effectively clean certain places in the mouth.
  • Ask Dr. Day and his team to review your child’s fluoride levels.

If you have questions or concerns about baby bottle tooth decay, please contact our office at 517-393-8500.

Day Family Dental

Dr. Nathan Day, DMD • Dentist • Lansing, MI

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