Did you know that one of the most common ways babies develop cavities is from "baby bottle tooth decay"? The good news is that it can be prevented.
Many people believe that since baby teeth are temporary, that they are not important. Not true. Baby teeth are necessary for chewing, speaking and smiling. They also serve as placeholders for the adult teeth. Tooth decay in infants and toddlers is often referred to as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay or Early Childhood Caries, and sometimes Nursing Mouth Decay, and occurs when a child's teeth are frequently exposed to sugary liquids for long periods of time, usually through extended nursing on milk (including breast milk), formula or juice. If decay is left untreated, pain and infection can result, which will ultimately lead to severely decayed teeth having to be removed. 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, and damaged adult teeth. Healthy baby teeth will usually result in healthy permanent teeth. So you can see how important it is to start infants off with good oral care to help protect their teeth for decades to come.
What You Need to Know to Recognize, and to Prevent, Baby Tooth Decay
Signs of tooth decay in babies might first appear as white spots at the gum line on the upper front teeth. Also other common signs are discoloration of the teeth and/or pits on the teeth. A child with tooth decay needs to be examined and treated early to stop the decay from spreading and to prevent further damage. The sugars in liquids such as milk, formula, fruit juice, sodas and other sweetened drinks, pool around the infant’s teeth and gums, feeding the bacteria that cause plaque. Giving an infant a sugary drink at nap or nighttime is harmful because during sleep, the flow of saliva decreases, allowing the sugary liquids to linger on the child’s teeth for an extended period of time, which increases the chances of cavities while the infant is sleeping. If left untreated, pain and infection can result. Severely decayed teeth may need to be extracted. The good news is that decay is preventable.
Healthy Habits: Help Avoid Tooth Decay
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:
- Avoid filling your baby's bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks. Never allow children to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, juice or other sweetened liquids.
- Remove the bottle or cup as soon as the baby is done feeding or is asleep. If it necessary to but the baby down with a bottle, make sure it contains plain water instead of milk, juice or formula.
- Try not to share saliva with the baby through common use of feeding spoons or licking pacifiers. After each feeding, wipe your child’s gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or washcloth.
- Wipe the baby's gums with a clean gauze pad or washcloth after each feeding. This should be done at least once a day.
- Supervise brushing until your child can be counted on to spit and now swallow toothpaste (usually not before he or she is 7 or 8)
- If your child uses a pacifier, provide one that is clean, don't dip it in sugar or honey.
- Encourage your child to drink from a cup by his/her first birthday.
- Make sure your child is getting enough fluoride. If your local water supply does not contain fluoride, ask your dentist or doctor if you need to use a supplement.
- Consider using products that contain Xylitol.
- Encourage healthy eating habits.
- Schedule regular dental visits by your child's first birthday or when your child's first tooth appears.
Preventing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Remember tooth decay can be prevented. You don't have to wait until the first tooth appears to begin practicing good oral health habits. Talk to your child's doctor or dentist if you see any signs of decay or if you have any questions about your child's teeth. Starting early is the key to healthy gums, teeth and a lifetime of smiles.