Tooth decay in infants and very young children is often referred to as "Baby bottle tooth decay". Baby bottle tooth decay happens when sweetened liquids or those with natural sugars (like milk, formula, and fruit juice) cling to an infant's teeth for a long time. Bacteria in the mouth thrive on this sugar and make acids that attack the teeth.

At risk are children whose pacifiers are frequently dipped in sugar or syrup. Giving an infant a sugary drink at nap time or nighttime is particularly harmful because the flow of saliva decreases during sleep.

Although baby bottle tooth decay typically happens in the upper front teeth, other teeth may also be affected.

Parents think baby teeth are temporary, and therefore, not important? THINK AGAIN! 

Baby teeth are necessary for chewing, speaking, and smiling. They also serve as "placeholders" for the adult teeth. If baby bottle tooth decay is left untreated, pain and infection can result. Severely decayed teeth may need to be removed followed by placement of space maintainers.

If teeth are infected or lost too early due to baby bottle tooth decay, your child may develop poor eating habits, speech problems, crooked teeth, and damaged adult teeth. In addition, the chances that adult teeth will end up being crooked are greatly increased.

A few simple steps can help stave off baby bottle tooth decay. They include implementing good oral hygiene at an early age. Here's how:

  • Never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle containing sugary milk, if hungry, make sure you give a mouth full of water after that (which helps flushing out all the sugary milk from the teeth surfaces)
  • Never give your child a pacifier dipped in anything sweet
  • Reduce the sugar in your child's diet, especially between meals
  • Wipe the baby's gums with a clean gauze pad or washcloth after each feeding
  • Begin brushing your child's teeth, without toothpaste, when his or her first tooth comes in. If you choose to use toothpaste, use a fluoride-free one
  • Clean and massage gums in areas without teeth
  • Make sure your child is getting enough fluoride (after 6 years of age), which helps lessen cavities. If your local water supply does not contain fluoride, ask your dentist or doctor if you need to use a supplement
  • Schedule regular dental visits by your "child's first birthday". Dentists also offer special sealant coatings, which can help prevent tooth decay in children

It's never too late to break bad habits. If your child drinks sweetened liquids from the bottle and/or sleeps with a bottle, break the habit now and cut the risk of baby bottle tooth decay by:

  • Gradually diluting the bottle contents with water over 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Once that period is over, fill the bottle only with water.