Tooth decay in infants and children is called baby bottle tooth decay. It can destroy the teeth and most often occurs in the upper front teeth. But other teeth may also be affected.
Decay occurs when sweetened liquids are fed to a child and left in the mouth for long periods. Many liquids cause problems, including milk, formula and fruit juice. Bacteria in the mouth use the sugars in these liquids as food and produce acids that attack the teeth. Each time your child drinks these liquids, acids attack for 20 minutes or longer. After many attacks, the teeth can decay.
It's not just what you put in your child's bottle that causes decay, but how often and for how long a time. Giving your child a bottle of sweetened liquid many times a day isn't a good idea. Allowing your child to fall asleep with a bottle during naps or at night can also harm the child's teeth.
Sometimes parents do not realize that a baby's teeth can decay soon after they appear in the mouth. By the time decay is noticed, it may be too late to save the teeth. You can help prevent this from happening to your child by following these tips:
- After each feeding, wipe the baby's gums with a clean gauze pad. Begin brushing your child's teeth when the first tooth erupts. Clean and massage gums in areas that remain toothless, and begin flossing when all the baby teeth have erupted, usually by age 2.
- Never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, fruit juice or sweetened liquids. If your child needs a comforter between regular feedings, at night, or during naps, give the child a clean pacifier recommended by your dentist or physician. Never give your child a pacifier dipped in any sweet liquid.
- Avoid filling your child's bottle with liquids such as sugar water and soft drinks.
- Start dental visits by the child's first birthday. Make visits regularly. If you think your child has dental problems, take the child to the dentist as soon as possible.