Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Also known as bottle rot or early childhood caries, baby bottle tooth decay is a condition in which very young children experience moderate to severe cavities in their baby teeth.  As the name implies, this condition is caused by an improper use of baby bottles.

How Does a Baby Get Cavities?

Cavities are caused by bacteria.  Most children acquire cavity-causing bacteria from their parents.  Bacteria are transmitted from the parents’ mouths to the child’s by sharing a spoon and kissing.

The real danger occurs when these bacteria are exposed to sugar.  Baby bottle tooth decay arises when the baby drinks a bottle of any liquid which contains sugar.  The most common culprits are fruit juices and milk.  Even milk contains sugar.

As the teeth are exposed to sugar-containing liquids, the bacteria ingest the sugar and create a by-product that is very acidic.  The acid by-product weakens and softens baby teeth enamel.  The enamel on baby teeth is much thinner than that on permanent teeth.  This allows cavities to spread much more quickly on a baby tooth than on a permanent tooth.

There are two important factors in the cavity process: 1) the amount of sugar the teeth are exposed to, and 2) the amount of time the teeth are exposed to sugar.

  1. Amount of Sugar – Fruit juice contains the highest quantity of sugar (besides sodas) and is very damaging to baby teeth. Soft drinks and sodas should NEVER be given to a child.  Milk contains small amounts of sugar, too.  If left in contact with the teeth long enough, even plain milk will cause tooth decay.
  2. Amount of Time – Even a small amount of sugar can cause a cavity if it stays in contact with the teeth for a prolonged period of time. Any sugar-containing drink to which the child has continuous access (such as an overnight bottle) creates a higher risk for cavities.

Upper front teeth are at the highest risk for baby bottle tooth decay because they are continually bathed in the liquid as the child drinks.  Other teeth may be affected as well.  The cavities initially appear as dark spots, small holes, or chips in the teeth.

How Do I Prevent Cavities for My Baby?

  • Limit bottle time – A bottle’s purpose is to provide nutrition for your baby. It is not a pacifier or soothing device.  It should never be used to put a baby to sleep.  If a baby falls asleep while drinking from a bottle, remove the bottle and replace it with a pacifier.
  • Limit bottle contents – Baby bottles should contain only baby formula, breast milk, or water. A baby bottle should NEVER be filled with fruit juice, soda, sugar water, or milk.  Not only do they all contain sugar; they do not provide the baby with any proper nutrition.
  • Water only overnight – If a bottle is given to the child overnight, water is the only liquid that will not increase the risk for cavities. Water is the only thing that contains zero sugar and zero acid.  This rule goes for sippy cups, too.  Toddlers should never go to bed with anything except water!
  • Oral hygiene – Even babies need oral hygiene. As soon as a tooth is visible, you should clean it with an extra-soft baby toothbrush or a washcloth.  Brush your baby’s teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice.  The brushing routine teaches your child good oral hygiene practices as they learn and grow.  The fluoride strengthens their baby teeth to resist cavities.

What if My Baby Already Has Cavities?

Baby teeth have many important functions.  If they get cavities, they need to be treated so that your child can chew and speak properly.  Cavities in baby teeth, if not treated, will progress to abscesses, which are serious dental infections that can spread.  These infections can put your baby’s life in danger!

If you see cavities in your baby’s teeth, the first step is to schedule a dental appointment.  Your dentist will evaluate the teeth and prescribe the appropriate treatment.  Most small children with extensive decay are treated by pediatric dentists with the use of sedation.

The most important part of this dental visit is the tips and instructions you, as the parent, will receive to help prevent any future cavities from developing.

More Questions about Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

Call our office today at 940-382-1750 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He can answer all of your questions about cavities in young children and advise you on how to proceed.

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