Good dental health starts in infancy. Even before your baby’s first teeth start erupting, it’s important to take good care of his or her gums in order to prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and other oral health problems. One of the most common problems dentists see in young children’s teeth is a condition that’s called as baby bottle tooth decay.
What Is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?
A child with baby bottle tooth decay has extensive decay that affects a number of his or her baby teeth. It most often affects the front teeth, but it can arise in the other teeth or spread to them over time. The decay starts as small cavities, but it quickly progresses to the point that large portions of the enamel become eroded and pitted.
What Causes This Condition?
Baby bottle tooth decay gets its name from the fact that it’s usually caused by putting your baby to bed with his or her bottle. The milk, juice, or formula in the bottle contains sugars that sit on the teeth all night. These sugars feed oral bacteria, which release acids that break down the tooth enamel.
In addition to putting your baby to bed with a bottle, there are a few other practices that can lead to or contribute to the condition:
- Frequently dipping a pacifier into sugar water or juice before giving it to your baby
- Allowing your toddler to walk around with a sippy cup of juice or milk all day
- Using a bottle of milk or juice as a “pacifier” for a baby instead of sticking to scheduled feeding times throughout the day
Some children have softer tooth enamel than others and are more susceptible to tooth decay. However, most children will develop some decay if parents use the practices above. There are also a few practices that don’t exactly cause decay, but when combined with the habits above, tend to make it worse:
- Sharing saliva with your baby via a spoon or bottle (your saliva contains bacteria, and when you share it, you pass on these bacteria, increasing the risk of decay)
- Failing to brush your baby’s teeth or wipe his or her gums after feeding
- Feeding a lot of unhealthy, sugary snacks to your toddler
If you avoid the practices above, your little one will get off to a much healthier start.
How Do You Know If Your Baby Has Tooth Decay?
If you’re worried that your child may be developing some decay, the best thing you can do is make an appointment with a pediatric dentist. In fact, the ADA recommends that all children see the dentist for the first time before their first birthday. The dentist should be able to tell whether your little one is experiencing decay just by looking at the teeth. If there is some decay, they may need to take x-rays to determine the extent.
How Is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay Treated?
Some parents assume that since the decay is in the baby teeth, there’s really reason to treat it; the teeth will fall out anyways. However, this is not the case at all. Your child needs his or her baby teeth to eat properly, to speak properly, and to guide the adult teeth into place.
Treatment will depend on the extent of the decay. Smaller cavities may be filled with composite resin or metal amalgam, much like your dentist would fill your own cavities. Teeth that are badly decayed are typically covered in crowns to protect them from future damage.
How Can You Break The Bad Habits That Cause Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?
If you’re worried about your baby’s oral health because you have been putting him or her to bed with a bottle or engaging in some of the other practices described above, the most important thing to do is make a dental appointment. Here are some specific tips to help break the habits that lead to decay.
Bottles at Bedtime
If your baby has a hard time going to bed without a bottle, try weaning him or her off of it slowly. Replace the milk or juice with half water. Then, after a few nights, only put water in the bottle. The bottle will eventually become less interesting to your child, and he or she should start falling asleep without it. You may have a few nights of crying, but remember that what you’re doing is best for your child’s health in the long run.
Sippy cups put the liquid your toddler drinks right into contact with his or her front teeth. Wean your little one off of them and onto a normal cup as soon as possible. Use a cup with a lid and a straw if you’re worried about spills. The straw deposits the liquid behind the teeth, rather than on top of them.
If your baby won’t take a pacifier that has not been dipped in honey or juice, perhaps it is time to wean him or her off of the pacifier. You could also try switching to a different style of pacifier. Different children prefer different shapes and sizes.
If you have any further questions or concerns about baby bottle tooth decay, or if your child’s first birthday is approaching, make an appointment with a pediatric dentist. Regular dental checkups are the best way to ensure your child’s teeth stay in great shape.