New parents, you may not realize the importance of caring for your infant’s teeth. You should know that serious tooth decay may develop by a child’s first birthday. Even though the child’s primary teeth will eventually be replaced with permanent ones, the primary teeth are critical for proper chewing, speaking, and appearance.
Baby bottle tooth decay is a condition that destroys the primary teeth of an infant or young child. It develops when a baby frequently receives a bottle of milk, formula, fruit juice or sweetened liquids to serve as a pacifier. It may result when the child is allowed to fall asleep with a bottle during naps or at bedtime. Prolonged demand breastfeeding may also cause this condition. Although the teeth most likely to be damaged are the upper front teeth, others may be affected.
Tooth decay is caused by germs which are present in a thin film of plaque that constantly forms on the teeth. The bacteria use sugar as an energy source. In the process, the bacteria produce acids that attack tooth enamel. Frequent, lengthy exposure to sugary liquids can result in attacking the child’s teeth. After many such attacks, tooth decay occurs.
All types of sugars, including those bound in bottle and breast milk, formula, fruit juices, and sweetened liquids can cause plaque bacteria to produce decay causing acids. How often a child receives a bottle containing these liquids and for how long a time the child’s teeth are exposed to decay-causing acid are two important factors.
Parents can help protect their baby’s teeth by doing the following:
After each feeding, wipe the child’s teeth and gums with a clean, damp washcloth or gauze pad to remove plaque. Begin brushing your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth erupts (around six months). Continue cleaning and massaging gums in all other areas that remain toothless.
Never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle of milk, formula, fruit juice, or sweetened liquids.
If your child needs a comforter between regular feedings, at night, or during naps, fill a nursing bottle with cool water or give the child a clean pacifier recommended by your dentist or pediatrician. Never give a child a pacifier dipped in any sweet liquid.
Avoid filling a nursing bottle with liquids such as sugar water, sweetened gelatin or soft drinks.
Make sure your child gets the fluoride needed for decay-resistant teeth. Ask your dentist about recommended methods for obtaining the proper amount of fluoride.
Schedule regular checkups beginning by the child’s first birthday. For more information or to have concerns or questions answered, please contact your local dentist or pediatrician.
The Jasper County Dental Society invites you to visit the American Dental Association on the internet at www.ada.org