Even though your child’s first set of teeth will eventually fall out and be replaced with adult teeth, it is still so important to take care of those baby teeth!
Children can experience tooth decay, cavities, oral pain, bad breath, a lack of confidence, and additional medical interventions due to baby bottle tooth decay and its effects.
Even babies can experience tooth decay. Any time an infant or toddler has cavities, early tooth loss, or other tooth decay, we call that “baby bottle tooth decay.” It is often–but not always–caused by exposure to bacteria that naturally occurs in a baby’s food.
Today, the dental profession is moving away from using the label “baby bottle tooth decay,” as the term doesn’t accurately describe the cause of infant and toddler tooth decay.
Today, we call this “Early Childhood Caries” (ECC) or “Early Childhood Tooth Decay.”
What Causes Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?
Tooth decay is caused by bacteria that feeds on sugar.
Everything we eat contains sugars, and that includes the foods and drinks that babies and toddlers eat, including:
- Fruit juices
- Syrups that are sweetened with sugar
- Honey (which should not be given to children before their first birthday)
- Toddler snacks
- Pureed baby food
- Homemade baby food
The bacteria in your child’s mouth feeds on these sugars, producing acid that can damage the enamel of the tooth and create cavities (holes) in the teeth.
Although saliva plays an important role in washing away these acids, it is not always enough to prevent decay from occurring.
How to spot early childhood tooth decay
In the first stages of ECC, you may notice some white, chalky-looking areas on the teeth. Later, the teeth may develop black or brown spots.
Although any tooth can be affected by this kind of decay, the most commonly affected teeth are the four upper teeth at the front of the mouth.
Do baby bottles cause Early Childhood Caries?
Baby bottles can be one cause of early childhood tooth decay. They are not the only cause, though.
When babies use a bottle to fall asleep or have one in their crib throughout the night, that provides bacteria with plenty of opportunity to grow. Babies and toddlers will fall asleep with milk, formula, or other drinks in their mouth, providing a feast to the bacteria that damage teeth.
During sleep, the human body produces less saliva, which is why this kind of damage is more likely to occur overnight.
When does baby bottle tooth decay occur?
Baby bottle tooth decay can occur any time after the arrival of the first baby tooth. In most babies, teething starts between 6 months and one year, although it varies from child to child.
It usually develops overnight, but it can also happen during nap time or during the day.
How common is early childhood tooth decay?
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), which is associated with the National Institutes of Health, there has been a decline in the number of cavities in children’s teeth since the 1970s.
Their research has found that 23% of kids between 2-5 years old have had cavities in their baby teeth.
How to Fix the Effects of Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
The best way to treat ECC is dependent upon the child’s unique situation, including their age and the status of their tooth decay.
If the problem is caught before the decay leads to a cavity, it may be possible to treat the decay without needing to perform an invasive dental procedure. This could include:
- Fluoride varnish treatments
- Changes in diet
- New oral hygiene routines
What do we do when there is already a cavity?
Often, a pediatric dentist can treat a minor cavity by placing a simple, tooth-colored filling in the tooth. A deeper cavity may need to be treated by pediatric root canal or tooth extraction.
How does a pediatric dentist treat young children without scaring them?
We know that many children have anxiety about going to the dentist. In fact, many adults do, too! Sometimes, parents will accidentally pass their anxiety about dental appointments down to their children.
Here is the good news: pediatric dentistry specialists like the team at Ashburn Pediatric Dentistry know how to treat children in a way that makes going to the dentist pleasant, stress-free, and even fun!
If your child is anxious about going to the dentist–or if you are worried about procedures related to early childhood tooth decay–you can trust that we will do everything we can to make your child feel comfortable and safe.
Some of our strategies include:
- Pediatric sedation dentistry for some treatments, including fillings
- A fun and kid-friendly office space
- Warm and friendly office staff, hygienists, assistants, and dentists
- State-of-the-art technologies and strategies for pediatric dental care
- A child-focused approach to dentistry
Preventing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
One of the best ways to avoid baby bottle tooth decay is to begin practicing excellent oral hygiene from infancy onward. Here are some tips:
- Before your child’s teeth come in, you can establish a routine of brushing. Wipe your child’s gums gently with a clean wet washcloth or gauze pad.
- After your child’s first tooth arrives, brush their teeth (gently) with a small, child-sized toothbrush and just a small smear of fluoride toothpaste. You should do this twice per day until they turn 3.
- After they turn 3, transition to using a pea-sized amount of toothpaste with fluoride. Continue to use a child-sized toothbrush.
- Once your child begins to brush their own teeth, supervise the process to ensure that they are consistently brushing all of their teeth (upper, lower, sides, backs, and fronts) and spitting out the toothpaste afterwards.
Additionally, these strategies will help prevent EEC as well:
- As much as possible, avoid sugary drinks like juice and soft drinks. If your child does have these drinks, put them in a cup, not a bottle, and do not let them take these drinks to bed.
- Only baby formula, milk, or breastmilk should be fed via a bottle.
- Always use clean pacifiers to prevent bacterial growth.
- Begin teaching your child to use a cup by their first birthday.
- Make sure that your child has finished their bottle before nap or bedtime.
Early Childhood Tooth Decay Treatment in Ashburn, VA
At Ashburn Children’s Dentistry, we take a holistic approach to pediatric dental care.
If you are concerned about baby bottle tooth decay and its effects, even at a very young age, we can develop a treatment plan that will address the concern, help you prevent more damage in the future, and improve your child’s health.
Call our office today to set up an appointment for your child.