Baby bottle tooth Decay
Baby bottle tooth decay is the decay of the primary teeth of infants and young children. Most commonly on the front teeth. It occurs most commonly to children who fall asleep with a milk bottle in their mouth, hence the name – baby bottle tooth decay.
When babies drink through the bottle, the sweetened liquid (formula, juice, even breast milk) is released in front of the mouth and pools around the teeth. This increases the contact time of the liquid with teeth, hence allowing plaque to accumulate, and the bacteria (strep mutans) to thrive. The acid produced by the bacteria goes on to erode the primary tooth. Sleeping with the milk bottle worsen it.
Baby teeth are also vulnerable during bottle or breast feeding as their teeth are sealed off from saliva when they suck. This prevents the saliva from breaking down the bacteria that is growing on the teeth which increases likelihood of tooth decay. Wiping the teeth with a clean wet cloth can be helpful to reduce plaque forming.
Milk Teeth fall out anyway, don’t they?
Many people may think that it is alright to let our primary teeth spoil as they do eventually fall out to make place for the permanent ones. That is actually quite erroneous.
Whether it is decay in the permanent teeth or the primary teeth, as long as the enamel is thinned, and the dentin is exposed, it is going to hurt. It is also common for children and babies to have fever when they have too many rotten teeth (in worst case scenario they may need surgical extraction).
In addition, there are reasons why humans have two sets of teeth. One of the purposes of having the primary teeth is so that tooth sockets are being formed in the jaws in preparations of the eruption of permanent teeth.
Having them prematurely drop out can result in misalignment of permanent teeth, causing more dental issues for the child in future.
In addition, primary teeth also helps in formulating chewing and articulation habits for children. The impact of losing primary teeth prematurely can be detrimental to the child’s eating, oral, speaking habits and even their self esteem!
As the baby grows, the permanent teeth can start growing inside the gums. Research has shown that permanent teeth can start growing teeth enamel within the gums as early as three to four months after birth. If the primary teeth is affected, it is also very likely to affect the growing permanent teeth beneath.
As soon as teeth erupt, decay can happen. Usually, the first sets of teeth to be affected in a baby is the upper front teeth. However, that does not mean that other teeth will not be affected either.
Treatment and Prevention
Treatment wise, sometimes it is unfortunate that the baby’s tooth is decayed to the extent that it requires extraction. In that situation, dentists can use this appliance called space maintainers that are custom built to hold open the empty space left by a lost tooth.
This can help steady the remaining teeth and minimize movements so that the permanent teeth can emergy in its natural position in the jaw. Maintenance of the appliance is relatively low, as it is rather unobtrusive. You will need to approach your local dentist for this service.
There are a few ways that parents can do to prevent the development of baby bottle tooth decay. For starters, parents can use clean gauze pads to wipe their baby’s gums after each feeding.
If you are wondering if there is existing consumer product out there, there is actually a baby and infant dental wipe product that is developed by two dentists for their own kids. Purported to be natural and safe for infants and babies, you may want to consider trying it out. Heck, you can even consider using it for yourself during those unexpected overnighters when you forgot to pack a toothbrush.
As soon as the first tooth erupts, we can start brushing it, while cleaning and massaging the gums in areas that tooth had not emerge. Some people like to use infant finger brushes such as these. However, one of the more frequent complaints is that babies are usually not so compliant to just lie there and open their mouths for us. We can also start flossing gently as soon as there are two adjacent tooth
What About Toothpaste?
There is widespread concern about the contents of the toothpaste, as children below the ages of 2 are very likely to swallow their toothpaste. 95% of the toothpaste in the market contains fluoride, and the existence of high concentration of fluoride in toothpaste can cause enamel fluorosis.
Enamel fluorosis is a condition which can vary from minor white spots to unsightly yellow/ brown discolouration of the enamel due to excessive intake of fluoride. There are fluoride free toothpaste for children in the market. You may want to consider giving them a try.
As for feeding, do remember to remove the bottle containing formula, fruit juices or sweetened liquids as the baby falls asleep, even if they have not finished it. Even diluted sweetened liquid can cause tooth decay. One helpful method is to make a habit out of letting the baby finish their bedtime or naptime bottle before sleeping. It would also be great to encourage the child to drink from cups from their first birthday onwards.
What about the little ones that need a pacifier between feeds or at nights or during naps? We know of some parents who would dip the pacifier in juice in order to encourage the infant to latch on.
That would be a big no-no. However, we can still give pacifiers, provided it is clean, and sans the additional flavoring. That being said, one mother recounted how she used to trick her kids to stop using the pacifier – dip minute amounts of bitter gourd juice does the trick easily.
Another preventive measure could be to limit the intake of chewing gum, or chewy sweets or sweet drinks. Engaging the child’s interest in good oral habits is crucial too. Go innovative in getting their buy in!
There are various toothbrushes designed for infants and babies. There are rather cute toothbrushes with cartoon characters printed on the handles that we can use to attract children’s attention and interest.
Here are a few toothbrushes for kids we like.
We recommend parents to consider making a dental visit within 6 months of first teeth eruption. In our experiences, many adults have negative experiences with their dentists, and many of the subconscious behavior can also affect the little ones, making them associate dental visits with negativity.
Hence, it may be helpful to reframe the experience for them, and for ourselves (really, it’s us most of the time) as a routine check up. Children model parents all the time, hence by having good oral habits ourselves, we also set a strong foundation for our children in oral care.