While everyone knows that children are at risk for tooth decay, many don’t realize that babies and toddlers are at risk for a special kind of tooth decay that can literally destroy their tiny teeth. This type of decay has various names: “bottle caries,” “baby bottle caries” or even “bottle rot.” (Those things moms call “cavities” are called “caries” by dentists.) As you can guess by the names, the occurrence of these caries is mostly associated with the use of baby bottles after teeth have started to come in.
Many moms put their baby down for the night with a bottle of milk, formula or juice, which can cause problems. These fluids all contain sugars which feed bacteria on the teeth while the baby sleeps. The bacteria grow strong enough to begin to attack the enamel of the teeth. Those new teeth can then start to rot along the gum line. In severe, untreated cases, the teeth can actually be rotted down to the root.
It’s very important to realize that bottle caries don’t just destroy the baby teeth. The bacteria penetrates the gums and can affect the permanent teeth that are developing inside the gums. When those permanent teeth finally erupt, they may already be decayed.
The really unfortunate thing about bottle caries is that if it’s extensive, there’s no solution except to remove the baby teeth before the permanent teeth can be affected. That’s not something any parent wants their child to go through. Therefore, prevention is key.
Here are nine easy steps provided by our Rockville dentist office, that any parent can take to prevent bottle caries:
- Reduce exposure to sugars that will feed bacteria. Don’t let your baby sip sugary drinks throughout the day and offer plenty of water. Sugary drinks include milk, formula and fruit juice. Soda is definitely a no-no and isn’t a recommended beverage for small children at any time.
- After meals, wipe the baby’s teeth and gums with a soft cloth, baby washcloth or a finger toothbrush (available at baby supply stores). Pay particular attention to the gum line around any teeth that may have already come in.
- Do not let the baby take a bottle of milk, formula or juice to bed.
- Make sure the last drink the baby or toddler gets before bed is plain water that will wash away remaining sugars in their mouth.
- Breast milk also contains sugars. If you are nursing a baby at bedtime, keep a bottle with water in it and a washcloth nearby. When the baby is done nursing, try to give them a little bit of plain water. Whether they take it or not, wipe their gums and any teeth that have already come in.
- It may surprise mothers that one important way they can prevent bottle caries is by keeping their own teeth healthy. The bacteria that cause these caries can be transmitted from mother to child. Getting regular cleanings, seeing to your own dental hygiene and handling any cavities of your own will reduce the amount of this bacteria present in your own mouth.
- Try to phase your child over to drinking from a regular cup instead of a sippy-cup or bottle by the time he’s one year old. Using a regular cup means your toddler isn’t continually sipping sugary drinks over time. This results in shorter exposures to the sugars that are the source of the problem.
- Introduce toothbrushing with a soft baby brush when several teeth have appeared.
- Start taking your child to the dentist when he is two years old.
No parent wants their child to get bottle caries. However, the good news is that by following these simple steps you have an excellent chance of preventing them.
By the time your child turns three years old, all of their baby teeth should have appeared. At this point the ratio of beneficial bacteria to damaging bacteria shifts and their mouth has more protection from caries. In the meantime, regularly inspect your toddler’s teeth for any white or dark spots on the teeth—especially along the gum line. If you have any concerns, schedule a dental appointment sooner than later.
Proper care is the key to preventing bottle caries. And if you do it right, your toddler’s bright smile will stay healthy and last a whole lifetime. If you have any questions, please contact our Rockville dental office at (301) 892-3337.
Recommended resources for additional information about baby bottle tooth decay: