Baby bottles filled with milk or juice provide both nutrition and comfort to most babies. However, you need to be aware that your baby’s ritual of falling asleep with a bottle in his or her mouth could lead to a dental condition known as “baby bottle tooth decay” that could destroy your child’s teeth.
The most common cause of tooth decay in babies and toddlers results from the frequent and long-term exposure of a child’s teeth to liquids containing sugar, including milk, formula and fruit drinks. Saliva helps to wash some of this sugar away, but when the child falls asleep, saliva production decreases. Bacteria in the mouth convert the sugars to acids that then etch and subsequently damage the enamel of the teeth, leading to decay.
Baby bottle tooth decay can cause painful toothaches that can not only hinder eating, but can develop into infections and the need to extract baby teeth. If your child’s teeth are damaged or lost too early, he or she may develop poor eating habits, speech problems, crooked teeth and damaged or discolored adult (permanent) teeth.
So how best to prevent baby bottle tooth decay? Awareness of the problem is an important first step, followed by these preventative tips:
- After each feeding, wipe your child’s teeth and gums with a damp washcloth or a clean gauze pad.
- Never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, juice or any sweetened liquids. If your child refuses to fall asleep without a bottle, fill it with water, and then remove it from his mouth when he falls asleep.
- Plan on scheduling your child’s first dental appointment around his or her first birthday, or earlier if you think your child may have dental problems.
The process of tooth decay is quite gradual, and no one may notice anything until the damage is done. Follow the simple steps above to ensure a good start to your child’s dental health.