Prevent Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

It may seem hard to think of baby teeth as important but they are needed for babies to learn to chew, smile and speak.

Tooth decay in infants and young children is often referred as baby bottle tooth decay. This happens when sweetened liquids or even those with natural sugars, like milk, formula and fruit juice, cling to an infant’s teeth for a long time. Bacteria in the mouth thrive on the sugar coated teeth and make acids that attack the teeth. Baby bottle tooth decay affects the upper front teeth most but other teeth may also be affected.

Baby teeth determine where adult teeth come in. If left untreated, baby bottle tooth decay can result in pain and infection. Severely decayed teeth might need to be removed. This could cause a child to develop poor eating habits, speech problems, crooked teeth and damaged adult teeth. Adult teeth could end up crooked.

Follow these steps to help reduce the risk of baby bottle tooth decay:

  • Wipe baby's gums with a clean gauze pad or washcloth after each feeding.
  • Begin brushing the child's teeth, without toothpaste, when his or her first tooth comes in, or use a fluoride-free toothpaste.
  • Clean and massage gums in areas without teeth.
  • Floss once all the baby teeth have come in.
  • Make sure the child is getting enough fluoride, which helps lessen cavities.
  • Schedule regular dental visits by the child's first birthday. Dentists also offer special sealant coatings, which can help prevent tooth decay in children.

Other techniques to help prevent baby bottle tooth decay:

  • Don't fill bottles with sugar water and soft drinks. Bottles are for milk, water, formula, and special electrolyte-containing solutions when the child has diarrhea. Soft drinks are not recommended for children, as they have no nutritional value.
  • Never allow the child to fall asleep with a bottle containing anything but water.
  • Never give the child a pacifier dipped in anything sweet.
  • Reduce the sugar in the child's diet, especially between meals.

If the child drinks sweetened liquids from the bottle and sleeps with a bottle, break the habit now and cut the risk of baby bottle tooth decay. Gradually dilute the bottle contents with water over 2 to 3 weeks. Once that period is over, fill the bottle only with water.  

Today’s expert is Sarah Haroldson, MD, family physician, ThedaCare Physicians-New London.