What is bottle feeding tooth decay?
Baby bottle tooth decay is tooth decay in infants and young children. It may also be called: infant caries, early childhood caries (ECC) or bottle mouth. Baby bottle tooth decay usually occurs on the front teeth, incisors commonly known as “rabbit teeth”.
Even though they are temporary, your child’s baby (milk) teeth are important, and are still susceptible to cavities (tooth decay). Children need strong, healthy teeth to:
(1) chew their food
(2) speak and have a good-looking smile
(3) their first teeth also help make sure their adult (permanent) teeth come in (erupt) correctly.
What causes bottle feeding tooth decay?
There are many factors which can cause tooth decay. One common cause is the frequent, prolonged exposure of the baby’s teeth to drinks that contain sugar, bacteria in the mouth thrive on this sugar and make acids that attack the teeth. Tooth decay can occur when the baby is put to bed with a bottle, or when a bottle is used as a pacifier for a fussy baby. If your infant or toddler does not receive an adequate amount of fluoride, they may also have an increased risk for tooth decay.
You may already know that putting your baby down at night with a bottle can lead to baby bottle tooth decay, but what you might not know is that other habits can lead to early dental issues.
Did you know that you can pass decay-inducing bacteria into your baby’s mouth? When you clean a pacifier by popping it into your mouth, and when you share spoons with your solid-eating older infant, you introduce bacteria from your mouth into your baby’s. That bacteria can lead to cavities, so it’s always best to provide your baby with a clean spoon or pacifier. Keeping extras handy will save you when your baby tosses a pacifier on the floor.
While you might know that your infant can’t have juice in bed, baby bottle tooth decay can occur with any sweetened liquid.
This includes even breast milk if your baby falls asleep while nursing or with un-swallowed milk in the mouth. When sugar is introduced into and held in the mouth, oral bacteria feed on it and create acids that eat away at baby tooth enamel. The only fluid that won’t cause this is plain, unsweetened water. If you must put your baby to bed with a bottle, make sure it contains only water.
Your baby may not have teeth, but that doesn’t mean you can skip oral hygiene altogether. You can avoid baby bottle tooth decay by wiping your little one’s gums after feedings to get rid of bacteria and sugar particles. When your little one has finished eating, use a clean gauze square or washcloth dipped in water to clean the gums.
What are the signs of baby bottle tooth decay?
The caries caused by decay can occur in any of the teeth. However, they most often occur on the upper front teeth (called upper incisors). Caries can appear as dark or brown spots on the teeth. As the decay worsens, children might experience pain and swelling around the teeth.
Why is it important to avoid bottle feeding tooth decay?
If baby bottle tooth decay is left untreated, pain and infection can result. Severely decayed teeth may need to be removed (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 and damaged adult teeth.
Prevention of bottle feeding tooth decay
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.
When your child’s teeth come in, brush them gently with a child-size toothbrush and a smear (or grain of rice sized amount) of fluoride toothpaste until the age of three.
Brush the teeth with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste from the ages of three to six.
Supervise brushing until your child can be counted on to spit and not swallow toothpaste — usually not before he or she is six or seven.
Place only formula, milk or breast milk in bottles. Avoid filling the bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks.
Infants should finish their bedtime and nap time bottles before going to bed.
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.
Encourage healthy eating habits.
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.
Refrain from sharing utensils and other items that come in contact with your child’s teeth to avoid passing your saliva to your baby’s mouth. Such habits can promote bacterial transmission.
Kimberley Eve Nyathi
Final year BDS
Lviv National Medical University