Did you know having healthy baby teeth can lead to healthy permanent teeth? While adult teeth will eventually replace them, baby teeth are still susceptible to decay and cavities, which could cause oral health problems down the line. One such problem is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay, also known as Early Childhood Caries or Nursing Bottle Caries. Here, we’ll look at this condition as well as how to treat it and prevent it, so your child can grow up with a sparkling, healthy smile.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay: Treatment and Prevention
Knowing what causes this condition is the first step to preventing it. This condition is when infants and toddlers experience tooth decay, most often in the upper front teeth. One main cause is continuous exposure to sugary drinks. Another cause is putting the baby to bed with a bottle, or when a bottle is used as a pacifier when the baby is fussy. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics also states that teeth being coated in almost any liquid other than water for long periods can lead to decay. Lack of adequate fluoride can also lead to decay. Because tooth decay is a disease, this condition can also be passed down by the mother or primary caregiver through saliva that contains cavity-causing bacteria. For instance, if a mother puts the baby’s feeding spoon or pacifier in her mouth, she could pass the bacteria to the baby.
You can look for signs of decay on the gumline of their upper front teeth, where you might find white spots on the teeth. However, because your baby’s teeth are so small, these signs may be hard to see without proper equipment. That’s why it’s recommended to bring your baby to a pediatrician or pediatric dentist at six months when their teeth first start to erupt or grow in. That way, you can get a clear plan on how to take care of your baby’s new teeth and prevent any early decay right from the start.
If decay does start affecting your baby’s teeth, however, issues can arise. If your baby is experiencing early tooth decay, it could lead to:
- Pain and discomfort in the mouth
- Potential costly dental care down the line or emergency care
- Damage to permanent teeth or loss of the space needed for them to grow in
- Infections that could lead to other health issues
While all this sounds frightening, don’t worry—treating and preventing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay is doable.
Preventing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay involves a mix of being aware of what you put in your baby’s mouth and maintaining simple routine care.
- After you feed your baby, wipe their gums clean with a damp washcloth or gauze pad.
- Avoid sharing saliva with your baby through spoons or pacifiers.
- When their teeth come in, brush them gently with a child-sized toothbrush and a grain of rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
- Use only formula, breast milk, or milk in your baby’s bottle, and avoid liquids like sugary juices or soft drinks.
- Make sure your infant finishes their bottles before bed and nap times.
- Ensure pacifiers are clean and not coated in sugar or honey.
- When breastfeeding, remove the nipple from the baby’s mouth once they’re asleep.
If your baby is experiencing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay, treatment is available and effective. In fact, according to the Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, toddler tooth decay reversal is possible, and enamel can be repaired, most notably through fluoride. But the first step is to contact your pediatrician or pediatric dentist. They’ll help you develop a treatment plan depending on your child’s age and severity of the condition.
As far as specific treatments, it will depend on the severity of your child's case. Your dental professional may recommend fluoride treatments such as a fluoride toothpaste, in-office treatment that may include silver diamine fluoride (SDF), which can remineralize the enamel and dentin, or mouthrinses. More severe cases might call for pit-and-fissure sealants to help prevent and control cavities. Finally, your dental professional might recommend giving your child low- or non-cariogenic snacks like cheese, crunchy vegetables, and nut butters, drinking fluoridated water, and limiting sugar-containing foods and drinks.
If fluoride isn’t strong enough for your child’s case, your pediatric dentist might suggest a more serious approach for child or toddler tooth decay treatment. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry states that stainless steel crowns may be used with large cavities and don’t require any maintenance or retreatment. In very severe cases, teeth might even need to be extracted. This is more likely to be necessary if the tooth is infected or has decayed so extensively that it cannot be restored.
The permanent teeth, which will serve your child into adulthood, are present in the jawbone from your baby's early years, and the baby teeth act as a placeholder for the permanent teeth. If they are lost prematurely, the spacing of the permanent teeth can be affected. Premature loss of baby teeth can lead to misaligned permanent teeth and other issues that could require extensive orthodontic treatment.
The best way to ensure ongoing dental health as your child matures is to be sure that he or she learns good oral hygiene from the beginning. For babies, that means cleaning your baby’s mouth with a damp washcloth or gauze after every feeding. For children, supervise them while brushing. They should use a pea-size amount of fluoride toothpaste, and make sure you’re helping them develop healthy and nutritious dietary habits.
There are so many things to pay attention to in your baby’s health, which can seem overwhelming. Luckily, the best approach to baby bottle tooth decay is awareness and prevention. After your baby is born, start developing good oral health care habits, and check in with your pediatrician or pediatric dentist when they turn six months old or when their first tooth appears. That way, you’ll be equipped with the best knowledge to keep your baby’s oral health in top shape, which can mean a healthy, confident smile in adulthood—something they’ll definitely thank you for!
This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.