Children are susceptible to a variety of dental ailments and oral diseases, the most common being tooth decay. Tooth decay or dental caries is the single most dreaded childhood disease affecting children worldwide. Reports suggest that it is 5 times more common than asthma, 7 times more common than hay fever, 4 times commoner than childhood obesity, and about 20 times more common than juvenile diabetes. As panic-inducing as the figures may suggest, another form of deadly childhood tooth decay is dominating the lives of many infants, the “baby bottle tooth decay”.
What is baby bottle tooth decay?
Baby bottle tooth decay, also clinically referred to as early childhood caries (ECC) is a rampant form of caries that affects infants and young children. The American Dental Association (ADA) defines ECC as, “the presence of one or more decayed (non-cavitated or cavitated lesions), missing (due to caries), or filled tooth surfaces in any primary tooth in a preschool-age child between birth and 71 months of age.” This typically means that such a form of tooth decay is extremely rampant and aggressive and has the potential to damage a child’s teeth and compromise his/her overall oral health.
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), ECC is today considered an international public hazard in both developing and developed nations. It is an infectious disease that can begin as early as when teeth first erupt (usually around 6 months of age), and can progress with rapid intensity causing high levels of stress and discomfort to the child.
Causes of baby bottle tooth decay
A study to identify the risk factors of ECC was conducted in rural Japan where 637 children aged 18 months were evaluated for baby bottle tooth decay. Results indicated that out of all the behavioral risk factors, weaning from breastfeeding was most closely related to caries factor. Although it has a number of different causes, baby bottle tooth decay is commonly caused by frequent and long-term exposure of your child’s teeth to sweetened fluids! Have you been giving your baby juice out of a sippy cup but lose track of how long the baby has been sipping? Instances like these may readily cause ECC.
Sugars from sweetened drinks like milk, formula, fruit juice, and syrups with sugar or honey tend to adhere to the child’s teeth, forming a layer of plaque. Acid-producing bacteria ferment these sugar molecules into acid which deteriorate the enamel and dentin of the teeth, causing dental caries. Tooth decay may also be passed from the mother to the infant. The bacteria may be passed through the saliva when the mother puts the baby’s feeding spoon in her mouth before feeding the baby. Beware of these easily avoidable risk factors!
Symptoms of baby bottle tooth decay
In infants, baby bottle tooth decay may take a strategic route of development. It affects the upper front (incisors) teeth first, followed by the upper and lower molars. Due to the protective nature of the tongue, the lower front teeth are often spared.
Some of the other common symptoms that you should look out for are:
- White spots on the surface of the teeth
- Tooth cavities in the teeth, commonly found in crevices
- Swollen or bleeding gums
- Possible fever caused by gum or tooth infection
Why are baby teeth important?
Are you fond of the notion that your child’s milk teeth are not as important? Think again! A baby’s teeth are extremely important for his/her current and future status of oral and general health.
- Baby teeth make chewing and talking easier: Your baby’s teeth not only help him/her eat and chew with ease but also contribute to the proper speech development in the early years of your baby’s life.
- Baby teeth hold out space for adult teeth: If the baby teeth are lost too early (due to tooth decay), the neighboring teeth may begin to drift into the empty space, relieving the permanent teeth of adequate space. This leads to crowding of your child’s adult teeth once they come in.
- Healthy baby teeth ensure healthy adult teeth: Children who have decay in their baby teeth are more likely to develop caries in their adult teeth as well. Similarly, crooked teeth in adulthood may also be a reflection of their crooked teeth in childhood.
- Damaged baby teeth can affect your child’s self-esteem: Tooth decay not only affects the teeth viability but also look bad, which can cause your child to begin smiling less due to low self-esteem.
- Decayed teeth can also affect your child’s education: Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) clarified in a report that children who have poor oral health also often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who
Can baby bottle tooth decay be prevented?
Tooth decay especially baby bottle tooth decay, once initiated can lead to a whirlwind of dental issues. The good news is that cavities are completely preventable. Here are some tips and tricks for parents to implement that can help prevent ECC in their little ones. Remember, a lack of attention can potentially harm your child’s oral health.
- Unrestricted, at-will consumption of sweetened or starchy foods should be discouraged.
- Infants should finish their bedtime and naptime bottles before going to bed.
- Children should be encouraged to drink from a cup by their first birthday.
- Frequent use of a training cup should be avoided.
- Do not let your baby fall asleep while nursing from a formula or milk bottle.
- Instead of pacifying your baby with a bottle, try cuddling, patting, singing, or reading.
- Do not give your baby pacifiers that have been dipped in sugar, honey, or syrup.
- Gradually dilute the bottle contents with water over a period of 2 to 3 weeks.
- Decrease consumption of sugar, especially between meals.
- Wean your baby from bottle or breastfeeding as soon as they can drink from a cup.
- Gently wipe your child’s gums and teeth with a wet cloth or gauze pad after every bottle feed.
- Begin brushing your child’s teeth as soon as it erupts with a fluoridated toothpaste in an amount no greater than a grain of rice.
It is generally advised that babies be scheduled for their first pediatric dentist appointment before their first birthday or after their first tooth has appeared, whichever comes first. If you are yet to celebrate another one of your baby’s firsts, book an appointment at the dentist to experience your baby’s first dental visit. 4Smile helps you look for diligent and reliable dentists to take care of your baby. They are in safe hands, with 4Smile!