How to Prevent Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Parents are usually surprised to see cavities in their infants and toddlers. It doesn’t happen often, but one of the most common causes is “baby bottle tooth decay.” While it can have long-term damage, it can also be prevented. Speaking as a dentist and a father, here’s what I want parents to know:
Baby teeth, although temporary, are necessary for chewing, speaking and smiling. They also serve as placeholders for the adult teeth. A child with tooth decay needs to be examined and treated early to stop the decay from spreading and to prevent further damage.
Tooth decay occurs when a child’s teeth are regularly exposed to sugary liquids for long periods of time. Untreated decay can lead to pain and infection and ultimately to the loss of teeth. The result is that the child may suffer from poor eating habits, speech problems, and crooked teeth.
Healthy baby teeth are the basic building blocks for healthy permanent teeth. So you can see how important it is to begin a program of good oral care for infants to help protect their teeth for decades to come.
How to Recognize Baby Tooth Decay
The first signs of tooth decay in babies include:
- White spots at the gum line on the upper front teeth
- Discoloration of the teeth
- Pits on the teeth
It’s the sugars in liquids such as milk, formula, fruit juice, sodas and other sweetened drinks that are the problem. If you give an infant a sugary drink at nap or bedtime, the sugars collect around the infant’s teeth and gums, feeding the bacteria that cause plaque. The flow of saliva decreases during sleep, reducing its cleansing properties and increasing the chance of cavities.
A few simple steps can help prevent baby bottle tooth decay. They include implementing good oral hygiene at an early age. Here’s how:
- Don’t fill your baby’s bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks. Never allow children to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, juice or other sweetened liquids. If falling asleep requires a bottle, make sure it contains plain water instead of milk, juice or formula.
- Wipe the baby’s gums with a clean gauze pad or washcloth after each feeding.
- If your child uses a pacifier, make sure it is clean – don’t dip it in sugar or honey.
- Teach your child to drink from a cup by his/her first birthday.
- Make sure your child is getting enough fluoride. If fluoride is not available in your local water supply, ask your dentist or doctor if you need to use a supplement.
- Encourage healthy eating habits.
- Schedule regular dental visits by your child’s first birthday or when your child’s first tooth appears.
As you can see, the key to healthy gums and teeth is starting early. Talk to your child’s doctor or dentist if you see any signs of decay or if you have any questions about your child’s teeth.
Remember, healthy teeth make a healthy smile!
Dr. Nishan Halim
Nishan Halim, DMD specializes in adult and pediatric restorative and cosmetic dentistry, as well as preventive dentistry, which is at the heart of this Capitol Hill, Washington DC neighborhood dental center. If you have questions about gum disease, contact Dr. Halim to schedule an appointment. Find out how he can help you maintain your healthy smile.