Most infants start teething as early as 6 months, which means that the foundation for good dental care and proper oral hygiene habits begins at this young age. Even though your child’s baby teeth are temporary, they are still susceptible to cavities. These early cavities are often referred to as early childhood cavities or baby bottle tooth decay, and the condition can have harmful impacts on a child’s development. Children need strong, healthy teeth to chew their food, learn to speak, and have a good-looking smile. Even more importantly, these first teeth help make sure that adult teeth come in correctly. It is crucial to start infants off with good oral care in order to prevent baby bottle tooth decay, and to help protect their teeth for decades to come. Here, we’ll take a closer look at what baby bottle tooth decay is and how you can protect your baby’s teeth.

What is baby bottle tooth decay?
Baby bottle tooth decay is caused by the frequent and long-term exposure of a child’s teeth to liquids containing sugars. This decay most often occurs in the upper front teeth, but other teeth may also be affected. Among the most harmful liquids are milk, formula, fruit juice, sodas and other sweetened drinks. The sugars in these liquids pool around the infant’s teeth and gums, feeding the bacteria that cause plaque. Every time a child consumes a sugary liquid, acid also attacks the teeth and gums. After numerous attacks, tooth decay can begin. This condition also is associated with breast-fed infants who have prolonged feeding habits or with children whose pacifiers are frequently dipped in honey, sugar, or syrup. The risk of causing cavities is significantly increased if the sweet fluids are left in the mouth while the infant is sleeping.

Why should I be concerned about baby bottle tooth decay?
Giving an infant a sugary drink at naptime or before bed is particularly harmful because the flow of saliva decreases during sleep, which allows 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, or damaged adult teeth. Healthy baby teeth, on the other hand, will usually result in healthy permanent teeth.

How is baby bottle tooth decay treated?
Treatment for baby bottle tooth decay will vary based on your child’s age and the severity of the condition. You and your child’s dentist can work together to formulate an approach to manage and treat, and you can discuss prevention techniques if you catch the condition early enough. White spots on a tooth’s surface are most often early symptoms of baby bottle tooth decay. At this stage, fluoride treatment or placing fluoride varnish can be used to remineralize all of the teeth. This treatment actually reverses decay in its earliest stages by helping to rebuild the surface enamel. Your child’s dentist might also recommend fluoride supplements. At this stage, you can also make changes to your baby’s diet to keep decay from progressing. These changes should always be made in coordination with your child’s pediatrician and/or pediatric dentist. Depending on your child’s age, overall health and nutritional needs, some dietary changes could be undesirable.

If baby bottle tooth decay is caught at later stages, fluoride treatments will no longer be sufficient. Symptoms of more severe decay include brown or black spots on the teeth, bleeding or swollen gums, fever, swelling or irritability, which could indicate infection and bad breath. If your child shows any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a dentist as soon as possible. If decay spreads, your child could face extensive restoration treatments and even tooth loss.

How can I prevent baby bottle tooth decay?
The good news is that a few simple steps can help stave off baby bottle tooth decay. They include implementing good oral hygiene at an early age. Here’s how:

  • Wipe the baby’s gums with a clean gauze pad or washcloth after each feeding.
  • Begin brushing your child’s teeth, without toothpaste, when his or her first tooth comes in. If you choose to use toothpaste, use a fluoride-free one.
  • Clean and massage gums in areas without teeth.
  • Floss once all the baby teeth have come in.
  • Make sure your child is getting enough fluoride, which helps lessen cavities. If your local water supply does not contain fluoride, ask your dentist or doctor if you need to use a supplement.
  • Schedule regular dental visits by your child’s first birthday. Dentists also offer special sealant coatings, which can help prevent tooth decay in children.

You can also prevent baby bottle tooth decay by limiting your child’s exposure to sugary drinks:

  • Don’t fill bottles with sugar water and soft drinks. Bottles are for milk, water, formula, and special electrolyte-containing solutions when the child has diarrhea. Soft drinks are not recommended for children, as they have no nutritional value.
  • Never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle containing anything but water.
  • Never give your child a pacifier dipped in anything sweet.
  • Reduce the sugar in your child’s diet, especially between meals.

Even if your child is already exposed to sugary drinks, it’s never too late to break bad habits. If your child drinks sweetened liquids from the bottle and/or sleeps with a bottle, break the habit now and cut the risk of baby bottle tooth decay by gradually diluting the bottle contents with water over 2 to 3 weeks. Once that period is over, fill the bottle only with water.

If your child shows signs of baby bottle tooth decay or if you have concerns about infant dental care, be sure to contact your pediatric dentist for more information.

Do you have any questions about baby bottle tooth decay? Call Westermeier Martin Dental care to schedule an appointment with your dentist 716-508-4547.