Baby Bottle Tooth Decay: Causes, Cautions, and Prevention

Few things compare to the joy of bringing a new life into the world. The prospect of watching a child grow, learn, and develop into a unique individual is enough to bring a smile to anyone's face. But many new parents become overwhelmed by the thought of keeping a fragile baby happy and healthy.

One of the best ways to keep your baby happy and healthy is to care for his or her teeth. Although children's teeth aren't permanent, they are still susceptible to tooth decay and infection which can become serious. In fact, the biggest threat to children's dental health is baby bottle tooth decay.

What is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

The bottle that delivers breast milk or formula to your baby can, unfortunately, lead to serious tooth decay. This condition occurs when an infant or toddler develops cavities, most often on the front teeth.

Common symptoms of baby bottle tooth decay include:

  • Dark pits on the teeth
  • Broken or cracked teeth
  • Large, visible holes in the teeth

What Causes Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

Any time formula, juice or food enters your baby's mouth, the bacteria that are normally present in your mouth responds by breaking down the food and producing an acidic by-product. This acid is strong enough to eat away tooth enamel.

Prolonged exposure to this acid (as little as a few minutes) causes tooth decay and cavities. Your baby might be at risk for baby bottle tooth decay if he or she:

  • Regularly sucks on a pacifier that you dipped in sugar or honey
  • Walks around with a bottle all day
  • Falls asleep with a formula bottle in his or her mouth

In each of these situations, acid remains on the teeth for minutes or even hours at a time. This gives acid enough time to dissolve and erode your baby's tooth enamel.

To make matters worse, babies' mouths produce less saliva when they fall asleep. Saliva is the mouth's primary defense against tooth decay, as it sweeps acid and food particles away from the teeth. The less saliva your baby's mouth produces, the more opportunity acid has to wreak havoc on your baby's teeth.

Is Baby Bottle Decay Serious?

Many parents question how seriously they should treat baby bottle tooth decay. Baby teeth don't last forever, after all, so what's the big deal? The reality is, children's tooth decay is a very serious issue.

Teeth are vital for speaking, chewing, and smiling. If your child has damaged teeth, he or she might develop a speech impediment or poor eating habits. Children with decayed baby teeth are also more likely to have crooked permanent teeth. Decayed teeth can become infected and cause a great deal of pain; if such teeth have to be removed before the permanent teeth are ready to replace them, there will be a need for spacers and retainers to guide the permanent teeth into place.

Furthermore, crooked or unsightly teeth can lead to a confidence issues. If other children make fun of your child's teeth, he or she might develop a poor self-image that endures long after baby teeth fall out.

Is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay Preventable?

Although baby bottle tooth decay is a common and serious issue, it is easy to prevent. Take the following steps to care for and protect your child's teeth.

  • Limit your baby's time with a bottle. As mentioned above, prolonged exposure to acid is the primary cause of tooth decay. Don't let your child suck on a formula or juice bottle all day, and don't put him or her to bed with a bottle.
  • Use a pacifier to soothe a moody baby. Sucking is soothing to many babies. If your child calms down when he or she has something to suck on, don't use a bottle. Give him or her a pacifier instead—this prevents the teeth from becoming soaked in sugar and acid. If your baby insists on a bottle, fill it with plain water.
  • Keep your baby's sugar intake to a minimum. The more sugar your baby consumes, the more at risk he or she is for tooth decay. Don't dip your baby's pacifier in sugar or honey, and avoid giving your baby juice or sugary formula in his or her bottle.
  • Don't share saliva with your baby. Avoid licking your baby's feeding spoons or pacifiers to prevent the sugars in your mouth from transferring.
  • Clean your baby's gums and teeth after feedings. Use a clean towel to wipe acids away from your baby's mouth after a feeding. Once teeth start growing in, brush them with a soft-bristled brush and a grain-sized amount of toothpaste.
  • Encourage your child to drink from a cup. Most children are ready to drink from cups between the ages of 1 and 2. Cups discourage children from walking around with a drink all day.
  • Take your baby to the dentist. Visiting the dentist on a regular basis helps yor child develop healthy dental habits and gain benefits from preventive dental care such as dental sealants.

If you worry about your ability to care for your baby, don't fret. Doctors, dentists, and other healthcare professionals are happy to help you care for your bundle of joy.

Keep these tips in mind to protect your child against baby bottle tooth decay. Be sure to take a look at our other blogs to learn more about setting a healthy dental foundation for your children.

For more information, call Parkland Mall Dental Centre at 403-342-1118.