Baby bottle tooth decay or early childhood caries refers to tooth decay in infants and very young children after being put to bed with a bottle containing milk, fruit juice, formula, or any other natural/artificial sugar containing beverage. Infants are at more risk when given bottles with beverages other than water at naptime or bedtime because saliva decreases as the child sleeps, offering less protection against harmful germs. In addition, it is the combination of the child being introduced to solid foods at the same time as drinking from a bottle or nursing, that presents the most risk. Furthermore, most often parents avoid using toothpaste with fluoride when the first teeth come in due the child’s inability to rinse out. This increases the risk of tooth decay.
Tooth decay is an infectious chronic disease and it is the most common disease of childhood. Bacteria that normally live in the mouth breakdown sugar found in beverages and food and create acid that causes teeth to decay. Sharing food and drinks with your child along with your child sharing with other children can cause the bacteria to spread. The number of times and length of time the child ingests sugary beverages/food increases his or her risk for tooth decay.
Why worry about baby teeth if they just fall out? Baby teeth are very important. They serve to help develop early speech, eating habits, and establish self esteem with a healthy smile. In addition, they serve as placeholders for adult teeth. There is a connection between the health of the baby tooth and the successive adult tooth. Removing baby tooth early can lead to problems in speech development, crooked teeth, poor nutrition habits and adult tooth decay. There is also a link between oral health and overall health. If baby tooth decay goes untreated, the child can develop severe pain and infection that could spread to the rest of the body. This often can lead to hospitalizations and emergency room visits. Sometimes, severely decayed teeth need to be removed.
How do we protect our young children against baby bottle rot?
- The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a visit to the pediatric dentist by child’s 1st birthday. This visit is essential to determine each child’s customized prevention plan.
- Begin brushing infant’s teeth with an appropriate size toothbrush as soon as the first tooth enters the mouth. If child does not have teeth yet, use cotton or gauze to wipe gums/tongue clean. This should occur after each nursing/bottle feed. The decision to use fluoride toothpaste can be discussed at your first visit.
- Never allow your child to fall asleep with anything other than water. Avoid sugar-containing beverages in bottles as well as sweetened pacifiers.
- Remember diluting sugary beverages does not reduce the harmful effects of acid on teeth.
- The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests no more than 4-6 ounces of juice a day in an open lid cup. Reducing the number of times and the length of time a child is drinking a sugary beverage greatly reduces the risk for tooth decay.
In conclusion, maintaining healthy baby teeth will allow for healthy permanent teeth and most importantly a healthy body.
Dr. Kapoor along with the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommend establishing a child’s dental home by age 1, in order to create a prevention routine based on the child’s caries/cavity risk. Many parents postpone this visit either to allow more teeth to erupt, unaware of the importance of primary teeth, and/or are worried about the child’s cooperation hindering the effectiveness of a good first visit. Children who come to the dentist by age 2 or 3 are already at a high risk of having dental caries, especially if good home care has not been established and fluoride toothpaste is not being used appropriately.
Please visit our website to learn more about Dr. Kapoor and our office and feel free to call us with any questions. It is essential for you as caregivers to have a good oral health routine established for your child, before more teeth continue to erupt and the diet continues to become more complex.