The Harmful Effects of Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
California Dental Association
Good oral health begins when your child is an infant. Health habits taught early will continue to provide benefits throughout your child's life. But without appropriate care and attention, even babies can develop serious and painful dental disease. The most common cause of tooth loss in children isn't accidents or injuries - it's Baby Bottle Tooth Decay (BBTD), a pattern of severe and rapid tooth decay in infants and toddlers.
What Causes Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?
For a baby's tooth decay, three elements are needed:
- a tooth
- foods containing sugar and starches.
Everyone's mouth has plaque, even an infant's with new "baby" teeth. Plaque is a sticky, colorless film of bacteria that constantly forms on tooth surfaces. When it comes in contact with sugar and sweets, the bacteria in plaque produces acids which attach and dissolve the tooth enamel. This breakdown of the enamel leads to the formation of a cavity.
Every time your baby consumes sugary or sweet liquids, the acids produced by the plaque attack the baby teeth. After numerous attacks by these acids, cavities can begin to form. In bottle-fed or nursing infants, the teeth most susceptible to BBTD are the upper front teeth, but the molars or back teeth also can be affected.
Surprisingly, liquids that are good for your baby, such as formula, milk, breast milk and fruit juices, all contain some form of sugar. These nourishing liquids can be a primary contributor to the development of cavities in your baby's newly formed teeth. The sugary liquids pool around your baby's teeth and gums. The sugar acts as an energy source, or food
source, for the bacteria which produce the acids that attack the teeth and create cavities.
Why Is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay So Bad For Children?
Baby bottle tooth decay not only can cause painful toothaches, it can create feeding and nutritional problems and may lead to middle ear infections. In very severe cases, decayed teeth can become so infected that they may need to be removed. If a child loses a tooth too early, it can result in poor eating habits, speech problems and loss of self esteem. Baby teeth also play an essential role as space holders for permanent or adult teeth. Premature loss of baby teeth may create changes in the growth of the jaw. If adult teeth cannot assume their proper position in the jaw, extensive orthodontic repair may be required later on.
How Can Baby Bottle Tooth Decay Be Prevented?
Because baby teeth are susceptible to decay almost as soon as they appear, parents should be especially careful about what they feed their children. It's important for your baby to get the essential nourishment that comes form milk, formula and fruit juices even
though they contain sugar. It's when you give your baby these foods that can make a big difference in the health of your child's teeth.
Don't use a sugary liquid as a pacifier
Many parents will use a bottle with milk or juice to pacify their baby at naptime, bedtime and long periods outside of regular meal times. While this can give short term comfort, it also can be damaging to your child. These sugary liquids pool around the teeth and gums, starting the formation of cavities. Remember that tooth decay is usually related more to the length of time the liquid is in the mouth than to the amount of sugar in the liquid.
Don't put a bottle filled with sugary liquid in the crib
The best way to prevent baby bottle tooth decay is to put your baby to bed without a bottle. While your baby sleeps, the natural saliva flow is reduced and the body does not wash away the sugary liquid. This allows plaque and acid to build up and attach the teeth as your baby sleeps.
Instead of a bottle, try these simple tips:
- Offer your child a security blanket, teddy bear or pacifier (don't dip it in anything sweet)
- Sing or play music
- Hold or rock your baby to sleep
- Rub or pat your child's head and back
- Read or tell a story
- Use an infant swing to rock your baby to sleep
Dentists recommend that, if you must give the baby a bottle at nap or bedtime, fill it only with water.
Be sure to consult your dentist if your local water supply does not contain cavity-fighting fluoride. A fluoride supplement might be advisable for your baby, and the entire family.
Take an active role in preventing cavities
Always hold your baby when bottle feeding and remove the bottle when bottle when your baby falls asleep. After regular feedings and snack times, make sure you wipe the child's teeth and gums with a damp washcloth or gauze pad to remove plaque. You can begin brushing your baby's teeth with a small soft toothbrush as soon as the first tooth appears. Check with your dentist about beginning a
routine of regular flossing as well.
To determine the most appropriate oral care program, make sure you have the baby examined by your dentist. The first appointment should be scheduled when your baby is between six and twelve months of age.
Wean your baby from the bottle sooner, rather than later
Start to offer your baby a cup at six months of age and wean your child from the bottle by about one year of age. Begin the weaning process by reducing the number of bottles given each day, offering liquids to your baby in a cup instead. At 10-12 months, gradually dilute the liquid in the bottle until
it contains only water. However, make sure your baby continues to get adequate calories from other foods.
Good Care Now Means A Lifetime of Smiles
Good habits established today create a foundation for healthy smiles in the future. Instilling good oral hygiene habits from the very beginning - limiting intake of sugar-laden foods and drinks, brushing and flossing regularly, and scheduling routine check-ups with the dentist - is the best way to prevent dental disease and to help your children take a healthy bite out of life.
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