Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Even though they are temporary, your child's baby teeth are important, and are still susceptible to cavities. Tooth decay in infants and toddlers is often referred to as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay, or Early Childhood Caries. Children need strong, healthy teeth to chew their food, speak and have a good-looking smile. Their first teeth also help make sure their adult teeth come in correctly. It’s important to start infants off with good oral care to help protect their teeth for decades to come.
What causes Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay most often occurs in the upper front teeth, but other teeth may also be affected.
There are many factors which can cause tooth decay. One common cause is the frequent, prolonged exposure of the baby’s teeth to drinks that contain sugar. Tooth decay can occur when the baby is put to bed with a bottle, or when a bottle is used as a pacifier for a fussy baby.
Tooth decay is a disease that can begin with cavity-causing bacteria being passed from the mother (or primary caregiver) to the infant. These bacteria are passed through the saliva. When the mother puts the baby’s feeding spoon in her mouth, or cleans a pacifier in her mouth, the bacteria can be passed to the baby.
If your infant or toddler does not receive an adequate amount of fluoride, they may also have an increased risk for tooth decay. The good news is that decay is preventable.
Preventing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
-Try not to share saliva with the baby through common use of feeding spoons or licking pacifiers. After each feeding, wipe your child’s gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or washcloth.
-When your child’s teeth come in, brush them gently with a child-size toothbrush and a smear (or grain of rice sized amount) of fluoride toothpaste until the age of 3.
-Brush the teeth with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste from the ages of 3 to 6.
-Supervise brushing until your child can be counted on to spit and not swallow toothpaste—usually not before he or she is 6 or 7.
-Place only formula, milk or breast milk in bottles. Avoid filling the bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks.
-Infants should finish their bedtime and naptime bottles before going to bed.
-If your child uses a pacifier, provide one that is clean—don’t dip it in sugar or honey.
-Encourage your child to drink from a cup by his/her first birthday.
-Encourage healthy eating habits.
When your child’s first tooth appears, talk to your dentist about scheduling the first dental visit. Treat the first dental visit as you would a well-baby checkup with the child’s physician. Remember: starting early is the key to a lifetime of good dental health. For more information about nutrition and your baby, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
When your child’s teeth come in, brush them gently with a child-size toothbrush and a smear (or grain of rice sized amount) of fluoride toothpaste until the age of 3. Brush the teeth with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste from the ages of 3 to 6. Supervise brushing until your child can be counted on to spit and not swallow toothpaste—usually not before he or she is 6 or 7. Your child should also see the dentist twice a year.
The ADA recommends taking your child to the dentist within 6 months of eruption of their first tooth.
Fluoride is a mineral that helps fight tooth decay. It is found in public water supplies, toothpaste and many other dental products.
Often called, “nature’s cavity fighter,” fluoride helps repair the early stages of tooth decay even before the decay can be seen. Research shows that fluoride helps prevent cavities in children and adults by making teeth more resistant to the acid attacks that cause cavities. When you brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste, or use other fluoride dental products, you are preventing cavities and strengthening your teeth’s enamel.
Your dentist may apply fluoride varnish or fluoride gel during your dental visit. Your dentist might also tell you to use a special fluoride rinse, paste or gel at home.
The American Dental Association recommends that children and adults use fluoride toothpaste displaying the ADA Seal of Acceptance. For children younger than 3 years, caregivers should begin brushing their children’s teeth as soon as they start to appear in the mouth by using fluoride toothpaste in an amount no more than a smear or the size of a grain of rice. You should be brushing your children’s teeth thoroughly twice a day (morning and night) or as directed by your dentist or physician. For children 3 to 6 years of age, caregivers should dispense no more than a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste and brush teeth thoroughly twice per day. Always supervise your child’s brushing to ensure that they use the appropriate amount of toothpaste and try and get your child to spit out most of the toothpaste.
The American Dental Association recommends your child see the dentist twice a year.
Thumb sucking is a natural reflex for children. Sucking on thumbs, fingers, pacifiers or other objects may make babies feel secure and happy and help them learn about their world. Young children may also suck to soothe themselves and help them fall asleep.
However, after the permanent teeth come in, sucking may cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and alignment of the teeth. It can also cause changes in the roof of the mouth. Pacifiers can affect the teeth essentially the same ways as sucking fingers and thumbs, but it is often an easier habit to break. The intensity of the sucking is a factor that determines whether or not dental problems may result. If children rest their thumbs passively in their mouths, they are less likely to have difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs. Some aggressive thumb suckers may develop problems with their baby (primary) teeth.
Children usually stop sucking between the ages of two and four years old, or by the time the permanent front teeth are ready to erupt. If you notice changes in your child’s primary teeth, or are concerned about your child’s thumb sucking consult your dentist.
Tips for helping your child stop thumb sucking:
Praise your child for not sucking.
Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure or needing comfort. Focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety and provide comfort to your child.
For an older child, involve him or her in choosing the method of stopping.
Your dentist can offer encouragement to your child and explain what could happen to their teeth if they do not stop sucking.
If the above tips don’t work, remind the child of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. Your dentist or pediatrician may prescribe a bitter medication to coat the thumb or the use of a mouth appliance.
Thorough brushing and flossing help remove food particles and plaque from smooth surfaces of teeth. But toothbrush bristles cannot reach all the way into the depressions and grooves to extract food and plaque. Sealants protect these vulnerable areas by "sealing out" plaque and food.
Sealants are a thin, plastic coating that is painted on the chewing surfaces of teeth -- usually the back teeth (the premolars, and molars) -- to prevent tooth decay. The painted on liquid sealant quickly bonds into the depressions and groves of the teeth, forming a protective shield over the enamel of each tooth. No anesthetic or numbing is needed when sealants are placed.
Typically, children are candidates for sealants on their permanent molars and premolars as soon as these teeth come in depending on how deep the grooves are in these teeth. In this way, the dental sealants can protect the teeth through the cavity-prone years of ages 6 to 14.
However, adults without decay or fillings in their molars can also benefit from sealants.
Sealants can protect the teeth from decay for many years, but they need to be checked for chipping or wear at regular dental check-ups.