Your baby’s milk teeth are susceptible to cavities. Tooth decay in infants and very young children are often referred to as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay, Infant Caries, or Early Childhood Caries. Baby bottle tooth decay is generally seen in children under 5 years of age, in their upper front teeth.

If you think your baby’s milk teeth are temporary and are not important, then stop and think again! Your baby’s milk teeth have various roles to play. Baby teeth are necessary for chewing, speaking, and smiling. They also maintain the space required for the adult teeth and make sure their adult teeth come in correctly and properly.

Taking care of your baby’s teeth right from the beginning is essential to prevent baby bottle tooth decay. If left untreated, it can cause pain and discomfort to your baby, resulting in an infection. 

Severely decayed teeth may need to be removed. If teeth are infected or lost too early, 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.

What Causes Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

When sweetened liquids (drinks that contain sugar) or milk from the bottle remains in contact with your baby’s teeth, it leads to baby bottle tooth decay. Sweetened liquids include fruit juices, flavoured or sugary drinks, sodas, and infant formula. Tooth decay can occur as a result of leaving the milk bottle in your baby’s mouth while putting him/her to sleep or while using the bottle too often, as a pacifier when your baby is cranky.

Remember that bacteria exist in your baby’s mouth as much as it does in yours. The sugar content in the liquids of your baby’s bottle, tend to stick around your baby’s teeth and gums, feeding the bacteria that cause plaque. Every time your child consumes a sweetened liquid, the plaque (acid) attacks the teeth and gums. After several attacks, tooth decay begins.

This condition can also be caused in infants who are exposed to prolonged breastfeeding every day. Breastfeeding, also known as nursing, is the feeding of babies and young children with milk from the mother’s breasts. If you do not clean your baby’s mouth regularly, each time you breastfeed, the bacteria in your baby’s mouth can act on the remnants of milk and cause tooth decay.

The good news is that a few simple steps can help prevent baby bottle tooth decay. 

Tips to Prevent Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

1.  Wipe your baby’s mouth with a cloth or a gauze. 

  • Wrap the gauze or the cloth around your finger and dip it in warm water.  Start by cleaning the baby’s tongue in gentle, circular motions. 

  • Next, softly rub your finger over the baby’s gums. 

Start this routine when your baby is about 3 months old and do this at least 2 to 3 times a day. 

2.  Brush your baby's teeth, when his or her first tooth comes in. 

  • Use a finger brush, without toothpaste, when the first set of teeth starts to erupt. A finger brush/toothbrush is finger-shaped and has soft blisters at the top, which are worn on the fingers in order to help the baby brush. 

  • You can gradually progress to a baby toothbrush once your baby is over a year old.

  • Check with your baby’s dentist before your start using toothpaste.

3.  Schedule regular dental visits with your baby’s dentist.

  • Your child’s paediatric dentist can identify a tooth decay at the earliest and help prevent baby bottle tooth decay. 

4.  Never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle containing anything but water.

  • Remember that the flow of saliva decreases in the mouth when your baby is asleep. Saliva protects your baby’s teeth and gums against decay and oral infections.

  • Allowing your baby to sleep with a bottle in his/her mouth will cause the bacteria to flare and act up. 

  • If your child has the habit of falling asleep with a bottle in the mouth, then make sure it is filled with plain water only. Avoid filling it with sweetened liquids.

5.  Never give your child a pacifier dipped in anything sweet. 

  • Pacifiers dipped in sweet liquids are the biggest cause of baby bottle tooth decay. Bacteria in your baby’s mouth acts on the sugar content of these liquids, causing decay. 

  • It is advisable to help your baby get rid of this habit at an early stage to reduce the risk of dental problems. 

6. Reduce the sugar in your child's diet, especially between meals.

  • Excessive consumption of sugary items can erode the enamel of your child’s teeth. Enamel is the visible, outermost covering of teeth and is the most important line of defense against tooth decay.

  • Hard candies, apart from being rich in sugar content, can also trigger a dental emergency like a broken or a chipped tooth.

The above tips will help prevent decay if your child has the habit of bottle feeding. The best way to stay away from bottle tooth decay is to stop the habit of bottle feeding. If your child drinks sweetened liquids from the bottle and/or sleeps with a bottle, use the following tips to break this habit:

1.  Start by gradually diluting the bottle contents with water over 2 to 3 weeks.

2.  Once that period is over, fill the bottle only with water.

Remember that healthy milk teeth will lead to healthy permanent teeth. Consult your paediatric dentist regularly to prevent and stop baby bottle tooth decay at the earliest.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.