Tooth Decay From Baby Bottle: Treatment and Prevention

Giving your baby a milk bottle at bedtime could lead to tooth decay. Here’s what you can do to care for baby teeth and prevent dental caries.

What is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

Baby bottle tooth decay refers to the development of cavities and early loss of baby teeth among infants and toddlers, usually brought on by prolonged milk bottle use.

Importance of Baby Teeth

Think that your child’s milk teeth are not important? Think again. Not only are baby teeth important for chewing and speech development in the early years of your child’s life, but they are also crucial to the growth of straight and healthy teeth in adulthood. A lack of attention to your little one’s teeth, coupled with baby bottle tooth decay, may affect your child’s long-term oral health and self-esteem if left untreated.

The good news is that your child’s chompers can still be saved if the problem is detected early.

Causes of Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Baby bottle tooth decay is caused by frequent and long-term exposure of your child’s teeth to sweetened fluids, such as formula milk, fruit juice, and syrups with sugar or honey. Sugars from these fluids tend to cling to your child’s teeth and feed bacteria in the mouth, which produce acids that attack the teeth.

Symptoms of Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Baby bottle tooth decay can affect any of your child’s teeth but mostly occurs in the upper and lower front teeth.

Other common symptoms of tooth decay to look out for include:

  • White spots on the surface of the teeth
  • Tooth cavities, or holes in the teeth
  • Toothache
  • Swollen or bleeding gums
  • A fever caused by gum or tooth infection

Treatment for Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Tooth decay in infants and toddlers can become a critical issue if left untreated. Your child will likely experience pain and bad infections which affect the gum or face.

Here are some treatment methods to explore if you suspect that your child has tooth decay:

  • Discuss the best management option for your child with your dentist.
  • If chalky white spots or lines are detected early, the dentist may apply fluoride to your child’s teeth and suggest changes to his or her diet to remineralise the teeth.
  • If the decay is obvious, dental filling material or stainless-steel crowns can be used to cover the teeth.
  • If the decay has reached the pulp chamber in the centre of the tooth, pulp therapy or tooth extraction may be considered.

How to Prevent Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Luckily, there are a number of ways that you can prevent this not-so-sweet problem from occurring.

Some prevention and oral care tips include:

  • Before your child's teeth emerge, gently wipe your child's gums with a wet cloth or gauze pad after every bottle feed to remove any dental plaque and excess sugar that may have built up.
  • Begin to brush your baby’s tooth with a soft bristled toothbrush as soon as it erupts, which will likely occur when he or she is about six months old as part of your baby’s dental care routine. 
  • Brush for at least two minutes—make it fun for both you and baby by singing a song while brushing!
  • Use a back and forth scrubbing motion to gently brush all surfaces (outer, inner and chewing) of your baby's teeth.
  • Replace the toothbrush when the bristles start to look worn, which usually takes around 3-4 months.
  • Fluoride in toothpaste protects your child's teeth from tooth decay by strengthening it. Fluoridated toothpaste containing at least 1000ppm fluoride prevents tooth decay. However, children can get fluorosis on permanent teeth from swallowing too much fluoride toothpaste. Fluorosis results in a change in colour or texture of the teeth.
  • To prevent fluorosis, ensure that an appropriate amount of toothpaste according to your child's age is dispensed and that your child does not swallow the toothpaste.
  • Bring your child for early dental checks for advice on the appropriate use of toothpaste.
  • Due to the concern for dental fluorosis, the recommendation for use of a smear amount (size of a rice grain) of 1000ppm fluoride (F) toothpaste for children below 3 years old should be limited to those at high-risk for dental caries. At the first dental visit, the dentist can determine your child's caries risk and make the appropriate recommendation for toothpaste use.
  • For children 3 years old and above, who are less likely to swallow toothpaste, use a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste.
  • Floss your child’s teeth once they come into contact with each other. Try using a pre-threaded floss pick if you are uncomfortable with using string floss.
  • Start to wean your child from the milk bottle when he or she is around one year old. Switch to a cup. 
  • Do not put your child to sleep with a milk bottle containing formula milk.
  • Brush twice a day. Once in the morning, and once after the last milk feed/food, just before bedtime.

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