By Chris Woolston, M.S.
If your child is old enough to have teeth, he's old enough to have tooth problems. For infants and toddlers, the biggest threat to dental health is baby bottle tooth decay. Here's what you need to know about this common -- but largely preventable -- problem.
What is baby bottle tooth decay?
Milk, apple juice, formula -- just about everything young children drink contains sugar. When a child drinks from a cup, the sugar moves past the teeth very quickly and does little harm. But when a child slowly sucks on a bottle, the sugar lingers in the mouth. Bacteria break down the sugar and turn it into acid. Over time, the acid can start eating away at the enamel on a child's teeth, most often the upper front teeth. This is called baby bottle tooth decay.
It's not something to take lightly. Severe cases can destroy teeth, making it harder for a child to chew or even talk clearly. Down the road, it could also lead to many hours in the dental chair or years of braces. According to the American Dental Association, children who lose their baby teeth too early are more likely to grow up with crowded or crooked permanent teeth.
How can I prevent baby bottle tooth decay?
The best way to prevent baby bottle tooth decay is to limit your child's time with a bottle, especially at bedtime. Give him a bottle at mealtime, but don't let him suck on it throughout the day. If sucking is soothing to your child, give him a pacifier. Above all, don't put him to bed with a bottle (unless it contains nothing but water). Clamping down onto a bottle of juice or milk all night is the ideal way to start decay.
Here are some other ways to protect your child from tooth decay:
Baby teeth don't last forever, but they still need to be treated with care. By taking steps to prevent baby bottle tooth decay, you'll give your child an excellent start for a lifetime of healthy teeth.
American Dental Association. Baby Bottle Tooth Decay( Early childhood tooth decay). 2010.
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Dental care for your baby. 2010.
American Academy of Family Physicians. Fighting the Silent Epidemic of Poor Oral Health. Am Fam Physician. 2007 Feb 15;75(4):475-476.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Preventing Tooth Decay. Updated February 2007.
American Academy of Pediatrics. News release: AAP warns parents and pediatricians that fruit juice is not always the healthiest choice. May 7, 2001.
American Dental Association. Life Stages: Parents. http://www.ada.org/public/manage/stages/parents.asp
Last Updated: March 11, 2013
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