Although they are only temporary, your child’s baby teeth are important and are still susceptible to cavities. Tooth decay in babies and toddlers is often referred to as baby bottle tooth decay or baby bottle rot, or more clinically, early childhood caries.
Children need strong, healthy teeth for speech development, to chew their food and to have a good-looking smile. Their baby teeth also help make sure their adult teeth come in correctly.
What Causes Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?
The most common cause of early childhood tooth decay is frequent, prolonged exposure of a baby’s teeth to drinks that contain sugar. Infants and toddlers that are allowed to take a bottle to bed or carry a sippy-cup during the day are at risk for baby bottle tooth decay.
While it may temporarily soothe your baby, using a bottle to pacify a fussy baby at bedtime allows the sugar in milk, formula and juice to coat the child’s teeth over a long period of time. The normal bacteria in a baby’s mouth change the sugar into acids that attack tooth enamel and eventually lead to cavities.
Tooth decay can harm baby teeth, which are necessary for a child’s ability to eat, speak and smile. If left untreated, baby bottle tooth decay can lead to pain, infection and the possible removal of decayed baby teeth. New, permanent teeth that come in could also be damaged or crooked.
Preventing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
The good news? You can prevent baby bottle tooth decay. Here’s how:
- Wipe your baby’s gums with a clean gauze pad or washcloth after each feeding.
- Start brushing your child’s teeth when the first tooth comes in.
- Don’t allow your baby to carry around a bottle during the day and don’t let your baby fall asleep with a bottle in his mouth.
- Floss when two teeth touch.
- Give tap water to your baby at nap-time or at night.
- Check to see if you have fluoride in your drinking water. Fluoride has been proven to combat tooth decay.
- Take your child to see a dentist by his first birthday.