When it’s sleep time for a bottle-fed infant, there’s no greater comfort to a baby than the bottle. Unfortunately, this sweet pathway to slumber can also lead to decay in the baby’s primary teeth. This is baby bottle tooth decay, AKA baby bottle tooth syndrome. It’s most commonly seen in the upper front teeth.

It’s true that children get a dental  “do-over”. Primary (baby) teeth are replaced by a second, larger set of adult teeth. Nevertheless,  the health of baby teeth is of paramount importance.  It’s not difficult to minimize the risk of baby bottle tooth decay, and the benefits are well worth the modest effort.

Baby bottle tooth decay begins when natural sugars in the liquid baby’s drinking cling to the teeth.  These sugars are consumed by bacteria which in turn secrete acids that erode tooth enamel. The process is essentially the same as that which causes tooth decay and cavities in adults, except that liquids rather than solids are the primary culprit.

From there the decay can progress to complete penetration of the enamel,  caries. This opening exposes the interior of the tooth to infection. The consequences of that development may include pain, loss of the tooth, speech issues, chewing problems, poor eating habits, and increased risk of crooked adult teeth.

  The common thread that runs through the list of preventative measures is avoiding prolonged exposure of a baby’s teeth to sugars.

  A bottle should be in a baby’s mouth only as long as he or she is actively drinking from it. If the baby dozes off while drinking, remove the bottle.  Ideally, feeding should be completed before the child is put down to sleep, with a stop along the way to brush. 

The only liquids that should go in a baby’s bottle are milk, formula, or breast milk.  Research indicates that breast milk does not promote tooth decay. It does contain lactose, a sugar, but also contains high concentrations of lactoferrin, which kills the decay-causing bacteria.  It may actually act to inhibit decay.  Fluoride also inhibits decay. Consult with your pediatric dentist for advice.

Sweetened drinks are definitely out!

Avoid using bottle feeding to soothe a fussy baby beyond the requirements of nutrition. Use a pacifier, but don’t make the mistake of dipping the nipple in honey, syrup, or anything else with sugar. 

The ultimate step in preventing baby bottle tooth decay is getting the bottle itself out of the picture.  The transition to drinking from a cup should begin at about six months and progress to full independence by the first birthday. 

Junior Smiles is a pediatric dentist office located in Boca Raton FL. To learn more about what you can do to prevent baby bottle tooth decay, come in for a visit.

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