Parents of toddlers and infants, especially first-time parents, have enough to worry about when it comes to their child’s health and well-being. The last thing they should have to add to their worries is “baby bottle rot,” which is extensive dental decay in young children often leading to early extraction of their baby teeth.
Baby bottle rot is caused when a sugar source, such as milk or juice, is added to a child’s bottle and the sugar eventually clings to the child’s teeth and gums. This also can happen when the baby’s pacifier is dipped in sugar. If left untreated it can lead to the decay, rotting of the teeth, infection, early extraction of their baby teeth and crooked teeth leading to the need for braces later in life.
Signs that usually indicate baby bottle rot are discoloration of their teeth or gums, usually a grayish color, inflamed gums and the child experiencing pain in their gums or teeth. One of the ways to prevent baby bottle rot is to not let a baby fall asleep with a bottle in their mouth if it has any liquid other than water because the flow of saliva decreases as they sleep, which makes it easier for sugar and acid to cling to their gums.
Baby bottle rot usually affects the upper front teeth. If a child’s teeth are infected and have to be extracted too soon in life, this can affect their permanent adult teeth as they begin to emerge. With teeth emerging in babies between six months to a year, the baby teeth are meant to hold the space in the mouth where their permanent adult teeth will later take their place. This makes the baby teeth vital to the child’s future oral health, so it’s imperative the teeth stay in their mouth as long as they can until they eventually fall out on their own.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey administered by the Centers for Disease Control, “Of children aged 2-11 years old, 41 percent of them had tooth decay in their first teeth… Untreated tooth decay is a common condition. 21 percent of children have untreated tooth decay. This represents about half of the children with cavities.”
By no means am I saying that parents shouldn’t give their children sugar, but if babies do consume it whether through a food source or in their bottle, parents and caregivers should clean the baby’s teeth and gums after every meal and before bedtime. For infants who haven’t developed teeth yet, this can be done simply by rubbing their gums with a wet washcloth or a baby finger toothbrush. This will help stop bacteria and acid from building up. For toddlers with teeth, this can be done with a toothbrush and child-friendly toothpaste. Ask your dentist about using toothpaste that contains fluoride.
It’s important that children get the best start in life when it comes to their oral health because their dental habits early in life usually create a trend for what they will be in adulthood. That’s why I recommend that parents and guardians bring the child in for his or her first dentist appointment by the time he or she is a year old or once their first tooth comes in. According to Parenting.com, “Research shows that children who begin dental care by age one have fewer fillings than those whose parents wait until age two or three. Getting to know a dentist at this age will help the baby be more comfortable with him or her in the future, and you will get helpful guidance about how to manage habits (pacifiers and thumb-sucking, for instance) as well as tips on what to do if your baby bumps a tooth.”
The important thing to remember when it comes to your baby’s oral health is that even though their teeth aren’t permanent, they still need to be taken care of. A tooth infection can make a baby sick and ultimately cause speech problems as they get older if their teeth come in crooked. Dental health ultimately affects a person’s overall physical health, so it’s important to get the process of healthy habits started at a young age.
Contact your dentist for further questions about baby bottle tooth rot and more tips on how to prevent it or contact one of our offices at Children’s Dentistry in Southern Nevada or Tooth Fairy Dental in Northern Nevada.
Dr. Steven Delisle is the owner of Children’s Dentistry. Visit his website at childrensedationdentist.com