One serious form of decay common among young children is baby bottle tooth decay (Early Childhood Caries). This condition is caused by frequent and prolonged exposures of an infant’s teeth to liquids that contain sugar. Among these liquids are milk (including breast milk), formula, fruit juice, soda and other sweetened drinks.
Putting a baby down for a nap or to bed at night with a bottle other than water can cause serious and rapid tooth decay. Early childhood caries can also occur when a child goes to sleep while breastfeeding or wakes in the middle of the night to breastfeed without having their teeth brushed. Although you may not see the immediate effects of adlib breastfeeding on your baby’s teeth, the unintentional result of weakened enamel and tooth decay may take years to become apparent when your baby is preschool age.
During sleep, the flow of saliva is reduced and the natural self-cleansing action of the mouth is reduced. A sweet beverage pools around your child’s teeth, bathing it, and giving plaque bacteria an opportunity to produce acids that quickly attack tooth enamel. If you must give your baby a bottle to comfort them at bedtime, it should be only warm tap water.
After each bedtime bottle feeding, wipe the baby’s gums and teeth with a damp washcloth or gauze pad to clean away milk and plaque that coats their teeth. The easiest way to do this is to sit down, place your child’s head in your lap or lay your child on a change table or the floor. Whatever position you choose, be sure you can see into your child’s mouth easily.
Encourage your child to drink from a cup as they approach their first birthday. Your goal is to have your baby weaned from the bottle by 12-14 months of age. Next, he/she should be weaned from using sippy cups or straw cups exclusively to drink by 2 years of age.
The American Pediatric Dental Association (AAPD) and The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest juice should be limited to mealtimes and not offered with snacks. Only water is encouraged in between meals. The AAPD and AAP juice guidelines are as follows:
Juice should not be introduced into the diet of infants before 12 months of age unless clinically indicated. The intake of juice should be limited to, at most, 4 ounces/day in toddlers 1 through 3 years of age, and 4 to 6 ounces/day for children 4 through 6 years of age. For children 7 to 18 years of age, juice intake should be limited to 8 ounces or 1 cup of the recommended 2 to 2.5 cups of fruit servings per day. For more tips on how to care for your baby’s mouth or to schedule your baby’s first dental appointment at Sprout Kids Dentistry with Dr. Anderson, call 617-328-1700.
Dr. Michelle Anderson is a pediatric dentist board certified by the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry.