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Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

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

Baby teeth aid enunciation and speech production, help a child chew food correctly, maintain space for adult teeth, and prevent the tongue from posturing abnormally in the mouth.  When baby teeth are lost prematurely, adjacent teeth shift to fill the gap, causing impacted adult teeth and the potential need for orthodontic treatment.  This phenomenon can lead to impacted adult teeth, years of orthodontic treatment, and a poor aesthetic result.

What is baby bottle tooth decay?

The term “baby bottle tooth decay” refers to early childhood caries (cavities), which occur in infants and toddlers.  Baby bottle tooth decay may affect any or all of the teeth, but is most prevalent in the front teeth on the upper jaw.

If baby bottle tooth decay becomes too severe, the dentist may be unable 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.

Scheduling regular checkups with a dentist and implementing a good homecare routine can completely prevent baby bottle tooth decay.

How does baby bottle tooth decay start?

Acid-producing bacteria in the oral cavity cause tooth decay.  Initially, these bacteria may be transmitted from mother or father to baby through saliva.  Every time parents share a spoon with the baby or attempt to clean a pacifier with their mouths, the parental bacteria invade the baby’s mouth. If you are a parent with no decay, no or few fillings, seeding a child with healthy bacteria can be good. If you are cavity prone or have periodontal disease, then the bacterial mix that the child gets from your saliva will be the same unhealthy cavity forming colonies and detrimental to the child's teeth and health.

The most prominent cause of baby bottle tooth decay however, is frequent exposure to sweetened liquids.  These liquids include breast milk, baby formula, juice, and sweetened water – almost any fluid a parent might fill a baby bottle with.

When sweetened liquids are used as a naptime or bedtime drink, they are a heightened risk because they remain in the mouth for an extended period of time.  Oral bacteria feed on the sugar around teeth and emit harmful acids.  These acids wear away tooth enamel, resulting in painful cavities and pediatric tooth decay.

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

Baby bottle tooth decay can be completely prevented by a committed parent.  Making regular dental appointments and following the guidelines below will keep each child’s smile bright, beautiful, and free of decay:

  • Clean gums after every feeding with a clean washcloth.
  • Do not place sugary drinks in baby bottles or sippy cups.  Only fill these containers with water, breast milk, or formula.  Encourage the child to use a regular cup (rather than a sippy cup) when the child reaches twelve months old.
  • Do not dip pacifiers in sweet liquids (honey, etc.).
  • Review your child’s eating habits.  Eliminate sugar-filled snacks and encourage a healthy, nutritious diet.
  • Do not allow the child to take a liquid-filled bottle to bed.  If the child insists, fill the bottle with water as opposed to a sugary alternative.
  • Clean your child’s teeth until he or she reaches the age of seven.  Before this time, children are often unable to reach certain places in the mouth.

If you have questions or concerns about baby bottle tooth decay, please contact our office.

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