Every part of your new baby is perfect and beautiful, including those tiny baby teeth that have yet to erupt from his or her gums. It's important to keep those baby teeth in good shape so that they can serve their purpose of allowing your child to eat and later guiding the adult teeth into place. Unfortunately, a lot of well-meaning parents make mistakes that end up causing damage to their baby's teeth. Specifically, numerous children end up with a condition known as baby bottle tooth decay, in which extensive cavities and decay appear in the baby teeth. Read on to learn more about this entirely preventable condition and how you can protect your child, starting in infancy and continuing on into early childhood.
What causes baby bottle tooth decay?
Baby bottle tooth decay, like all tooth decay, is ultimately caused by oral bacteria. When certain bacteria are present in the mouth, they secrete acids that break down the tooth enamel. The bacteria that make this acid love sugar. They feed on it, and when sugar is present in the mouth, they proliferate, leading to greater quantities of acid and more decay.
Baby bottle tooth decay occurs when a child's teeth are exposed to too much sugar for too long a period of time, leading to bacterial growth. The condition gets its name because it most often appears in children who are given a bottle or milk at bedtime. The milk and the sugars it contains sit on the teeth all night. Toddlers who carry around sippy cups of juice or other sugary drinks all day are also prone to baby bottle tooth decay.
Why is baby bottle tooth decay so concerning?
Baby bottle tooth decay can cause numerous problems in babies and children. These include:
- Pain when eating and drinking
- Difficulty with speech due to decayed or deformed teeth
- Improper positioning of the adult teeth when they later erupt
- A need for extensive fillings and reconstructive dentistry
How can you protect your child from baby bottle tooth decay?
If your child develops baby bottle tooth decay, he or she will likely need numerous fillings and likely some crowns in order to keep the teeth stable in the mouth until the adult teeth are ready to erupt. The process of having this dental work done is expensive and also stressful for your child. So, it's far better to just prevent baby bottle tooth decay in the first place. Here's what you need to do:
Don't put your baby to bed with a bottle.
Don't think you'll just curb the habit when the teeth start erupting. Putting a toothless infant to bed with a bottle is a bad idea since it will still allow oral bacteria to thrive, and then when the teeth do erupt, they'll be exposed to excessive acid and bacteria. If your baby is currently going to bed with a bottle, try weaning him or her off by filling the bottle with water instead. You might have a few sleepless nights, but your baby will soon adapt to going to sleep without a bottle.
Don't dip pacifiers in honey or juice.
If you give your baby a pacifier to suck on during the day or during naptime, do not dip it in anything sweet. This process introduces sugar to the mouth, too, and can have similar effects as sleeping with a bottle.
Teach your toddler to drink out of a regular cup as soon as possible.
Allowing your toddler to sip on sugary drinks throughout the day is not wise. Sippy cups put their contents into direct contact with the front teeth, which can perpetuate decay. Teach your child to drink from a plain cup as soon as possible, since when drinking from a cup, the liquids are deposited further back on the tongue and away from the teeth. To reduce sugar exposure, also try giving your toddler beverages like juice and milk only with meals. Give water between meals, as this won't expose the teeth to sugar.
If you have additional concerns about baby bottle tooth decay or how to protect your child, speak with a pediatric dentist at a clinic like Cobbe Dental & Orthodontics.