Putting your child to bed with a bottle filled with milk may give him some comfort and get him to sleep faster, but it could also be causing serious damage to his teeth.
Baby bottle tooth syndrome is the name given to tooth decay caused by using a baby bottle as a sleep aid. When a child falls asleep with a bottle full of milk or juice, some of the liquid from the bottle pools behind the sleeping child's front teeth. The bacteria that cause cavities then have all the time and sugars they need in order to erode the enamel on those tiny teeth.
Early childhood cavities caused by bottle feeding are most often apparent in the top front teeth, as the nipple of the bottle prevents saliva from washing away the sugars from the top incisors. The bottom front teeth may also be affected, though they are more protected by saliva and the tongue.
How to Prevent Baby Bottle Syndrome
According to the American Dental Association, these early childhood cavities are entirely preventable by doing a few simple things to ensure your child's teeth are clean, healthy and strong.
- If your child needs a bottle to fall asleep, or if you're using a bottle as a pacifier during the day, fill it with water rather than milk, juice or any other beverage.
- If your child falls asleep while feeding, remove the bottle as soon as you notice he's no longer sucking.
- Begin brushing your child's teeth as soon as they erupt. Begin flossing his teeth as soon as he has two primary teeth that are touching.
- Teach your child to drink from a cup rather than a bottle by about six months. Children should be weaned from the bottle by about one year old.
- Bring your child to a pediatric dentist after his first tooth erupts and before age one. Your dentist can warn you of any potential problems with your child's teeth and gums.
Your child's baby teeth will help him chew and speak in the coming years, and will hold a place in the jaw for his permanent teeth to grow in straight. Taking care of them from the moment they first begin to erupt can prevent the unnecessary discomfort caused by baby bottle syndrome and other early childhood dental problems.