Baby Bottle Tooth Decay is the common name for Early Childhood Caries (ECC)
ECC is dental caries (cavities) in early childhood due prolonged exposure of baby’s teeth to sweetened liquids. This sweetening can be sugar or honey added to a pacifier, or “natural sugars”, found in milk, formula, fruit juice and even breast milk. The bacteria in the mouth produce acids by breaking down these sugars. The acid, in turn, attacks the teeth, and causes tooth disease.
Baby bottle tooth decay is essentially the occurrence of cavities in young children and infants due to prolonged exposure to sugar. Other terms that may be used for baby bottle tooth decay include:
- Bottle mouth
- Infant caries (cavities)
- Early childhood caries (ECC)
Causes of Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Baby bottle tooth decay typically affects a child’s front teeth (incisors), but can be a problem in any teeth. These early childhood caries are caused by excessive sugar on the teeth. When sugar remains on the teeth, bacteria that is naturally present in the mouth feeds on the sugar, multiplies, and then produces an acid which attacks the teeth, causing tooth disease.
Sources of Sugar that Contribute to Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
- Infant formula
- Sweetened juices
Practices that Lead to Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Perpetual exposure to these sweetened foods and drinks causes early childhood caries. Common practices which can lead to baby bottle tooth decay include:
- Putting a baby to sleep with a bottle
- Using a bottle as a pacifier
- Allowing a child to frequently carry a bottle or sippy cup
Decay[/caption]Baby bottle tooth decay typically appears as white, brown, or dark spots on the teeth. Teeth may also become more sensitive when cavities are present.
Complications of Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Early childhood caries can create significant problems. It is a misconception that because the baby teeth are temporary, it doesn’t matter if they get cavities. In fact, baby teeth play an important role in your child’s dental health. Children need healthy, strong baby teeth to:
- Speak correctly
- Chew food
- Create proper space for permanent teeth
If teeth are lost too early or don’t develop properly, your child is at risk for:
- Difficult or painful chewing
- Chronic dental pain
- Speech problems
- Poor nutritional habits (due to inability to chew correctly)
- Misaligned or crowded adult teeth
Preventing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Preventing early childhood caries involves proper dental hygiene and being diligent about healthy bottle-feeding habits. The good news is that baby bottle tooth decay can be avoided by following these simple bottle-feeding and teeth-cleaning tips:
- Do not put your child to sleep with a juice or milk-filled bottle. This allows sugar to rest on teeth for hours. Use water if your child needs a bottle to fall asleep. Ask your pediatrician for recommendations about giving a bottle at bedtime.
- Limit juices and sweetened beverages. Six ounces per day is the recommended amount by the American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP), while children under 6 months should not be given any juice.
- Give bottles at specific feeding times rather than allowing your child to carry a bottle or sippy cup for long periods of time. Prolonged sipping of sweetened beverages (even those with natural sugars) allows the sugar to coat the teeth and cause cavities.
- Begin healthy eating habits early by limiting sweet snacks.
- Do not share your child’s feeding spoon. Parents can unknowingly transmit bacteria through saliva when they taste their child’s food or give the baby a taste of their food using a common utensil.
- Always use a clean pacifier if your child uses one. Never use sugar, syrup, or honey on a pacifier. Honey can be extremely harmful to children under 12 months of age.
- Start cup training early, around 6 months. This ensures a smooth transition when weaning your child from the bottle, which is recommended by the American Dental Association (ADA) at about 12 months.
- Wipe your child’s gums with a clean, damp cloth after each feeding.
- Start good brushing habits as soon as your child’s first tooth appears. Use an age appropriate toothbrush and toothpaste and help or supervise your child’s brushing until he/she is able to brush thoroughly and spit properly without swallowing toothpaste (usually around age 6). Your dentist can provide information on maintaining healthy oral hygiene.
- Begin visiting your dentist as soon as your child’s teeth start to come in (Baby Teeth Eruption). Starting good oral care while your child is young will keep his/her teeth healthy and protected for years to come.
Dr. Shane Fisher
Dr. Shane Fisher, a board certified pediatric dentist, has over 15 years of providing comprehensive dental care for infants, children and teenagers. He has consistently received 5 star ratings throughout social media. He has patients that travel from all over the metropolitan area including Mequon, Whitefish Bay, Thiensville, River Hills, Fox Point, Glendale and other northern Milwaukee suburbs.
If you would like for your child to have a great experience at a pediatric dentist, please call Dr. Shane A. Fisher at The Kids Dentist 262-241-0400 or complete an online appointment request.