Little teeth can get cavities, too! When there is significant decay in an infant or toddler’s teeth, it is often referred to as “baby bottle tooth decay.” The more you know about baby bottle tooth decay, the easier it is to prevent it.
There’s a good reason this dental condition is called baby bottle tooth decay. It’s frequently caused by babies being put to bed or down for a nap with bottles filled with sugary liquids — juice, formula, milk and more. Tooth decay can also be the result of toddlers frequently drinking sugary beverages. The sugar from these drinks can stay on teeth for hours while they sleep, feeding the bacteria that cause tooth decay.
Although it can damage all baby teeth, baby bottle tooth decay most often occurs in the upper front teeth. Not all children experience the same symptoms. However, white spots or brown areas on baby teeth, pain and swelling are frequent signs of baby bottle tooth decay.
A child with tooth decay needs to be treated by a dentist as soon as possible to keep decay from spreading and causing more damage. Since baby teeth are temporary, you may wonder why cavities are such a big deal for infants and toddlers.
Strong, healthy teeth help them eat, learn to speak correctly and influence their appearance. Baby teeth make space in a child’s mouth for their adult teeth to grow in straight. Tooth decay can cause teeth to come in crooked or crowded. In addition, cavities may cause pain, infections, swelling and difficulty chewing and speaking.
Fortunately, baby bottle tooth decay is preventable. Here’s how to keep baby teeth healthy:
Give infants only breast milk, formula or water to drink.
If you put a baby to bed with a bottle, make sure it only contains water.
Don’t use a bottle as a pacifier for a fussy child.
Begin weaning children from bottles by teaching them to drink from sippy cups by their first birthday, as longer bottle use can lead to cavities.
Keep toddlers from walking around or riding in a stroller with any liquid that contains sugar.
Even before teeth come in, wipe your child’s gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or washcloth after each feeding.
When teeth start to emerge, brush them gently with a child-sized toothbrush and a dab of fluoride toothpaste the size of a grain of rice. Once your child reaches age 3, use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
Floss your child’s teeth daily once two teeth touch.
Take your child to the dentist when the first tooth appears or no later than their first birthday. The dentist will check your child’s teeth for cavities and make sure the teeth are developing normally.
Talk to your dentist to see if a fluoride treatment would benefit your child.
Breastfeeding may help reduce the risk of baby bottle tooth decay, although breast milk does contain sugar and breastfed infants can still get cavities.