What is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

infant girl drinks milk from a bottleDo you think baby teeth are temporary and therefore not important? Think again. Children need strong, healthy teeth for chewing, speaking and smiling. Baby teeth also serve as placeholders for adult teeth and ensure they come in correctly.

Tooth decay in infants and young children is often referred to as baby bottle tooth decay. One of the most common causes of tooth decay in children is frequent and long-term exposure to artificially sweetened liquids, as well as those with natural sugars. These liquids include, but are not limited to, milk, formula and fruit juice. Bacteria in the mouth thrive on this sugar and produce acids that attack the teeth. If baby teeth don’t develop properly, your baby may develop poor eating habits, speech problems and adult teeth may grow in crooked.

How Can I Prevent Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

The good news is a few simple steps can help prevent your child from getting baby bottle tooth decay. It begins with implementing good oral hygiene at an early age.

  • After each feeding, wipe the baby’s gum with a clean gauze pad or washcloth.
  • Massage gums in areas without teeth.
  • When your child’s first tooth comes in, begin brushing his or her teeth. Do this without toothpaste or use toothpaste that is fluoride-free. Fluoride can be dangerous if swallowed, sometimes resulting in dental fluorosis. This condition can cause discoloration or pitting on the teeth. Whenever children are old enough to learn to spit out toothpaste, usually about the age of 2 or 3, fluoride toothpaste is safe to use.
  • Fluoride does help prevent cavities, so get fluoride in other ways. If your local water supply does not contain fluoride, ask your dentist about a supplement.
  • Once all baby teeth have come in, begin flossing.
  • DO NOT fill bottles with sugar water, soft drinks or juice. Babies under 6 months should not drink juice at all. Even juices diluted with water are a way to interest your child in sugary drinks. Bottles should only be used for formula, milk or breastmilk.
  • Never let your child fall asleep with a bottle containing anything but water. It’s best for them to finish their bottle before bedtime and naptime.
  • Never give your child a pacifier dipped in anything sweet. Never give honey to a baby under 12 months of age for any reason.
  • Reduce the sugar in your child’s diet, especially in between meals.
  • Children should be weaned off a bottle by the time they can drink from a cup, usually by their first birthday. The bottle should not be taken away too soon, however, because the sucking motion aids in the development of facial muscles and the tongue.

It’s never too late to break a bad habit, either. If your child drinks sugary liquid from the bottle, try diluting the contents with water over 2 to 3 weeks. Once that period is over, fill the bottle with water whenever possible and begin following the safety tips above.

If baby bottle tooth decay is left untreated, your child may experience pain and develop an infection. Severely decayed teeth may need to be removed. When your child’s first tooth appears, talk to your doctors about scheduling a dental visit. The key to a lifetime of good dental health is starting early! Healthy baby teeth are vital for healthy adult teeth.

About the Author

I am a family dentist who treats children as well as adults. Making smiles people love, extreme makeovers and complex dental reconstruction is our niche including implants, TMJ, orthodontics and cosmetic dentistry. As a participant in the blog, I will be offering dental perspectives on pediatric safety and health care options on a regular basis. I can be reached at www.suwaneedental.com. Blessings to all! Dr Williams is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


6 Responses to “What is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?”

  1. It also helps when you don’t feed your child while sleeping and leave him doing so as the sugar coming from the milk (residue in the bottle) can cause decay as well.

    • Stefanie Zucker Stefanie Zucker says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more. If your baby falls asleep with the bottle in their mouth, any sugar left on your baby’s teeth can cause decay if it remains there for any length of time. Wiping it off with a soft cloth can help alleviate this.

  2. Jessy says:

    I love your post. I am a mom, it is very clear and informative post. This post helpful for me.

    • Stefanie Zucker Stefanie Zucker says:

      Thanks Jessy! We love when people stop by to tell us something we wrote was helpful! We really appreciate the compliment…and the company…so please stop by anytime and leave us a note – even just to say hi! 🙂

  3. alen says:

    I am a dad and i found the information very helpful.