Although our time together is short, our baby teeth are very important for our lifelong oral health and wellness. Not only are they critical to our development in terms of learning to eat solid foods and speak, they also serve as placeholders for our eventual adult teeth. Tooth decay by way of cavities at a very young age can wreak absolute havoc on a baby’s oral health. It can lead to pain, the breakdown of tooth structure and long term health issues such as poor eating habits and speech problems. It is also much more common than you would think.
Today’s post aims to offer everything you need to know to understand how baby bottle tooth decay (early childhood caries/cavities) come about, how they can be easily prevented and the reasons preventing them is so important for long-term health and wellness.
What is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?
Baby bottle tooth decay is the result of frequent and/or long-term exposure of a child’s teeth to liquids that contain sugars. Such liquids include milk (lactose sugar), baby formula and fruit juices that frequent baby bottles world round, hence the name.
It goes without saying that sodas and other sweetened beverages present the same danger if not worse to infants’ teeth. Over time this exposure leads to the sugars in these liquids collecting around the teeth and gums, particularly near the front of the mouth. These sugars feed the bacteria found in plaque. The acidic bi-product of this feeding creates tooth decay known as cavities. As you can see below, this can get downright nasty.
The condition is also a realistic possibility for children who do not bottle feed. Breastfed children who feed for extended periods of time as well as those who have their pacifiers dipped in sugary liquids are also at risk. As delicious as a sugar dipped soother sounds, it is never recommended and is terrible for your young one’s teeth.
How to Prevent Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
The good news is that early childhood caries are easily preventable. The bad news is that the most effective means of preventing them requires the implementation and practice of daily habits. This includes brushing existing teeth with a toothbrush twice a day with a rice grain sized amount of toothpaste. This can be done with a specialized infant toothbrush or finger brush. The most important requirement is that the bristles are extra soft. Gums should also be wiped with a damp clean washcloth. Flossing also becomes a very necessary practice once all the baby teeth have come in. For an extensive guide on your baby’s teeth, click here.
Beyond the above, the main way to prevent baby bottle tooth decay is by limiting tooth exposure to sugary liquids for extended periods of time as well as avoiding passing bacteria from an adult mouth to that of a child via sharing of spoons and other utensils.
Useful tips for preventing early age decay include;
Ensure that all naptime and bedtime bottles are finished and removed from your child’s mouth before they sleep thereby limiting the potential exposure time;
Encourage your child to use bottles far less frequently by their first birthday, opting for sippy cups instead;
Reduce sugar and refined carbohydrates in their diet wherever possible;
Fill bottles with water, milk and formula only. No juices please;
Never dip their pacifiers in anything sweet including honey;
Visit your dentist as soon as your child’s first tooth comes in or if you are concerned that they may have cavities (discolouration or black dots on the tooth surface); and
Avoid all temptation to share utensils or lick pacifiers in order to prevent the passing of bacteria from your mouth to theirs;