What Should I Know About Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

Niki Foster

Baby bottle tooth decay (BBTD) is tooth decay in young children caused by bottle-feeding anything besides water. It can be caused by milk, juice, formula, or any sweetened liquid. The most common cause of baby bottle tooth decay is letting a child go to sleep while drinking from a bottle. The prolonged contact of the child's teeth with sweetened liquid causes cavities to form, and they can become quite severe.

Allowing a child to go to sleep with a bottle can lead to tooth decay.
Allowing a child to go to sleep with a bottle can lead to tooth decay.

As in adult tooth decay, baby bottle tooth decay begins when bacteria in the mouth turn sugars into acids, which eat away at tooth enamel. Saliva helps to wash away the acids and clean the mouth, but saliva production slows during sleep, and having sugar in the mouth for too long, especially overnight, puts one at greater risk for cavities. For this reason, breastfeeding or bottle-feeding your child for too long at a time can also cause baby bottle tooth decay.

The vulnerable teeth in a bottle-feeding child's mouth are the top front four teeth, and cavities form on the visible portion of the tooth, unlike adult cavities. In advanced cases, the entire teeth can be destroyed, causing other teeth to grow in incorrectly. Baby bottle tooth decay occurs gradually, and symptoms typically first appear around 12 to 18 months. The first sign is white, calcified streaks at the gum line.

To prevent baby bottle tooth decay, never give your child a bottle to sleep with, and do not feed him less than fifteen minutes before bedtime. Only bottle-feed or breastfeed your child during meals; do not let her use the bottle as a pacifier. Teaching your child to use a cup as early as possible is also helpful against baby bottle tooth decay. Finally, make sure your child's mouth is clean by brushing his teeth with an infant toothbrush and water after feedings. You can begin using a small amount of fluoride toothpaste when you are sure that your child will not swallow it.

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