Baby bottle tooth decay is caused by the frequent and long-term exposure of a child's teeth to liquids containing sugars. Not only refined sugars, as in sodas, but even natural sugars in milk, fruit juice, formula and other sweetened drinks can be a problem. The sugars in these liquids pool around the infant's teeth and gums, feeding the bacteria that cause decay. Every time a child consumes a sugary liquid, bacteria convert sugars to acid and the acid attacks the teeth, eventually causing decay.
Never allow children to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, juice or other sweetened liquids. Giving an infant a sugary drink at nap or bedtime is harmful because during sleep, the flow of saliva decreases, allowing the sugary liquids to linger on the child's teeth for an extended period of time. Only water should be used in a bottle given at nap or bedtime.
A higher rate of tooth decay is also associated with breast-fed infants who have prolonged feeding habits, and with children whose pacifiers are dipped in honey, sugar or syrup.
If decay is left untreated, pain and infections can result. Severely decayed teeth may need to be extracted. Infected baby teeth can harm the developing permanent teeth under them. Premature loss of baby teeth can adversely affect the timing and position of erupting permanent teeth. If baby teeth are infected or lost too early due to decay, your child may develop poor eating habits and speech problems. Healthy baby teeth will usually result in healthy permanent teeth.
Clean and massage a baby's gums to help establish healthy teeth and to aid in teething. Wrap a moistened cotton gauze square or washcloth around the finger and gently massage the gums and gingival tissues for children who have not yet gotten their teeth. This should be done once a day. Once they are present, the teeth should be cleaned of plaque by using a soft toothbrush, cotton gauze, or washcloth. Cleaning your child's teeth should be done a minimum of twice a day and after each meal when possible. Using a small amount of toothpaste that contains fluoride is a good idea.
Parents should first bring their child to the dentist when the child is between two and three years of age, unless a specific concern arises earlier, such as trauma to the mouth or teeth, discolored teeth, or suspected decay or infection.
If you have any questions about baby tooth decay, Dr. Mahlin would be happy to discuss them with you.