Baby teeth may be temporary but they are still susceptible to decay and cavities. Your little ones baby teeth will eventually fall out, but if they fall out early due to bad dental health, your child’s permanent teeth may not grow in correctly. Baby teeth act as a guide for the permanent teeth. If baby teeth are lost too early, the teeth that are left may shift position to fill in the gaps. This may not leave any room for the permanent teeth to come in.
Children also need strong and healthy baby teeth to chew their food well and to learn how to speak correctly.
The most common cause of tooth decay in babies is often referred to as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay. While there are many reasons a child’s teeth may decay - such as certain medications and a lack of fluoride in the water supply, baby bottle tooth decay causes the majority of problems.
What is baby bottle tooth decay? Baby bottle tooth decay happens when sweetened liquids or those with natural sugars (like milk, formula, and fruit juice) cling to an infant's teeth for long periods of time. Bacteria in the mouth thrive on this sugar and produce acids that attack the teeth. Besides baby bottles, pacifiers can also contribute to tooth decay when they are dipped in sugar or syrup and given to a baby to suck on.
Baby bottle tooth decay typically affects the upper front teeth but can also damage other teeth.
Cleaning bacteria from your baby’s gums can start before your infant’s teeth appear. Use a clean gauge pad or washcloth with warm water and rub your baby’s gums after they have nursed or had a bottle. Once baby’s teeth come in, you can brush them with a baby toothbrush and water. There’s no need to use toothpaste at this time. Talk to your pediatrician or family dentist about when to start using toothpaste with fluoride.
Most people have fluoride in the water system they use, if you do not talk to your doctor about getting a prescription for fluoride supplements when your child is old enough.
To help prevent baby bottle tooth decay follow these tips.
- Do not fill baby bottles with sugar water and soft drinks. Bottles are for milk, water, formula, and special electrolyte-containing solutions when the child has diarrhea. Juices, mixed half and half with water to avoid empty calories, are a way to interest your child in a "sippy cup." Soft drinks are not recommended for children as they have no nutritional value.
- Never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle containing anything but water.
- Never give your child a pacifier dipped in anything sweet.
- Decrease your child's sugar intake, especially between meals.
The sooner your child can learn to drink from a sippy cup the better. Older infants and toddlers tend to rely on the bottle to self-soothe and too often will fall asleep with a bottle in the mouth.
If your child drinks sweetened liquids from the bottle and/or sleeps with a bottle, break the habit now and reduce the risk of baby bottle tooth decay by:
- Gradually diluting the bottle contents with water over two to three weeks.
- Once that period is over, fill the bottle with water.
Once your baby’s teeth begin to appear check with your dentist about when to schedule his or her first visit. Many parents prefer to start their child’s dental visits with a pediatric dentist. The first visit will probably be more like a well-baby checkup unless your child shows signs of tooth decay.
Starting early care can help guarantee a lifetime of good dental health.