Tooth decay in infants and small children, commonly known as baby bottle tooth decay, is a frequent occurrence in this day and age, and should be of serious concern to parents. Infants that are allowed to have a bottle in bed or older toddlers that are allowed to carry around a bottle or sippy cup during the day are at risk for this type of tooth decay.
The decay develops when sweetened liquids or those with natural sugars (like milk, formula, and fruit juice) frequently come into contact with an infant’s teeth, causing bacteria in the mouth to thrive. These bacteria in turn make acids that attack the teeth, and can cause extensive damage.
Although baby teeth are temporary, they are still of enormous importance. They serve as placeholders for adult teeth and are necessary for chewing, speaking, and smiling. If teeth are infected or lost too early due to baby bottle tooth decay, your child may develop poor eating habits, speech problems, and crooked or damaged adult teeth. As well, if baby bottle tooth decay is left untreated, pain and infection can result. Severely decayed teeth may need to be removed.
What then, can be done to prevent baby bottle tooth decay?
For starters, never send your baby or toddler to bed with a bottle, or let them fall asleep with a bottle in their mouth. Try to separate the last bottle-feeding of the evening from bedtime. Although baby teeth usually don’t start coming in until six months, habits that are formed before then will have an impact on their teeth as they form and emerge. If your baby develops a dependence on a bottle this habit can be very difficult to break.
It’s also a good idea to introduce a regular drinking cup by six months of age, as the use of a cup is the best way to prevent bottle or sippy cup dependency. Allowing your child to tote a bottle or sippy cup with them during the day is a sure-fire way to contribute to tooth decay. It is wise to give a bottle or sippy cup only at mealtimes.
Preventative measures can also include wiping the baby’s gums with a clean gauze pad or washcloth after each feeding, and developing a routine that includes brushing your child’s teeth, without toothpaste, when his or her first tooth comes in.
What though, if your infant or toddler has already developed a bottle habit? Continue to give them a bottle, but fill it only with water. Water cannot harm tooth enamel, and it is also somewhat boring and will help your child eventually give up the bottle of their own accord.
Remember that it is never too early to adopt good oral hygiene habits with your baby. Healthy baby teeth are the precursor to healthy adult teeth, and the measures you take early on will benefit your child for a lifetime.
For more information about our dentists and services for your children, please contact North Burnaby Dental Group.