By: Cristina Moreno, Penfield Children’s Center

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay is a common name for early childhood caries, or cavities that occur in baby teeth. Although baby teeth are not permanent, they do serve an important role, so it is a good idea to teach your child about healthy oral hygiene and nutrition early on.

Why is it important to take care of baby teeth?

  • Baby teeth are placeholders for permanent teeth. If a baby tooth falls out prematurely, the remaining teeth can shift, causing the permanent teeth to lose their place and grow in crookedly.
  • Teeth make chewing easier, which promotes good nutrition, and help speech development.
  • Tooth decay can cause pain, discomfort, and infections.
  • Professional oral care for kids can be expensive and difficult to find. Many children already dislike the dentist, and having to deal with additional procedures like filling or pulling teeth at a young age can lead to even more anxiety at future visits.

What can cause tooth decay?

Tooth decay can be caused by many factors. Common culprits include:

  • Juice or other sweet non-milk beverages in the bottle. – Juice and other beverages can contain a lot of sugar, even if it is natural sugar. Sucking on a bottle with juice all day means that the teeth will likely be coated with sugar throughout the day. It is best to only offer small amount of juice in a cup at mealtimes, no more than 4 ounces a day for babies between 6 and 12 months, and rinse their mouths afterward. This also goes for “sweetening” pacifiers. Pacifiers should never be dipped in sugar or honey.
  • Going to bed with a bottle. – Like juice, milk contains natural sugars which can cause tooth decay over time. Baby’s with teeth should not go to sleep while drinking any beverage other than water, regardless of whether it is in a bottle or sip cup. If you wish to give your child milk before bed or naptime, you should do so while they are awake and then rinse their mouth or brush their teeth.
  • Added sugar – Most kids love sweet stuff, and many of the snacks and juices kids eat can be loaded with sugar. Your child will eventually want to eat candy, gummy snacks, and other treats anyway, so it is best to avoid offering them as long as possible. A sweet treat every now and then won’t hurt your child, but it is best to save it for special occasions and offer healthier snacks like fruit instead.
  • Exchange of mouth bacteria. – Cavity causing bacteria can be transferred from a parent or caregiver to the child through saliva if the parent or caregiver cleans the baby’s pacifier or spoon with their mouth.

How can I prevent tooth decay?

  • Use only formula or milk in your baby’s bottle.
  • Encourage using a cup by your child’s 1st
  • Encourage healthy eating habits.
  • Begin a good oral hygiene regimen when your child is young.

What oral care routine is appropriate for my child?

Even before a baby’s first tooth appears, you can use a soft gauze or washcloth to wipe down their gums to get them used to the idea of having something cleaning their mouth. Silicone brushes are also a good choice for early oral care. The thimble-like silicone brush that fits over an adults’ finger has been popular for a long time, but you can now find soft silicone brushes with handles that are easy for a baby to hold. These handled brushes can be great teethers and you can start to introduce them once your child learns how to grasp and bring objects to their mouths.

A small smear of non-fluoridated toothpaste, about the size of a grain of rice, is typically recommended for children up to the age of 3. Children between the ages of 3 and 6 can start to use a pea-sized amount of non-fluoridated toothpaste. It is important that you keep an eye on your child while they brush so you can monitor how much toothpaste they use and encourage them to spit it out. Even though children’s toothpaste is typically safe if swallowed in small doses, it is still a good idea to monitor how much your child ingests. You may want to avoid introducing fluoridated toothpaste to your child until they have mastered spitting and rinsing. Parents can begin flossing their child’s baby teeth and should make a habit of flossing daily once their child’s teeth fit close together. The “Toothbrushing Song”  is a fun way to help your child keep track of how long they should brush their teeth.

How do you take care of your child’s oral health?


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