No one wants to see their child in pain. And yet some parents are hurting their children's dental health without even knowing it. While it's understandable that providing a bottle at bedtime is comforting, such a considerate action could actually be rotting away your child's teeth!
Known as early childhood dental caries, baby bottle tooth decay is caused when children are exposed to sugary substances on a frequent basis. Milk, formula, fruit juice, sports drinks and soft drinks all contain sugars that can harm your teeth -- the more children are exposed to them, the greater their chances of developing tooth decay.
Putting children to bed with a bottle filled with one of these liquids, or allowing them to drink from a bottle or breastfeed beyond meal times, are common ways of causing baby bottle tooth decay.
Sugar and Spice -- But Not So Nice
Why is extended feeding a problem? As liquid pools in the mouth, it remains in contact with teeth for a long period of time. This enables bacteria to convert sugar into acids, which attack tooth enamel. Over time, the enamel and inner layers of the teeth are worn down, eventually resulting in cavities, or dental caries. Although the top front teeth are most often affected, all baby teeth are susceptible to early childhood dental caries.
Luckily, there are a few signs to look for before the symptoms get out of hand. White spots on teeth and sensitivity to cold or sweets are signals your child may have baby bottle tooth decay. Once you spot these symptoms, you can take the necessary steps to treat it and prevent it again in the future. If not treated, the tooth decay will eventually destroy the primary teeth, known as "bottle rot." Extreme cases of bottle rot may even cause teeth to fall out. Plus, baby bottle tooth decay can cause your child an extreme amount of discomfort, which in turn leads to even more difficulty with sleeping.
Prevention Is the Best Medicine
Before you question your parenting skills, understand that baby bottle tooth decay is one of the most common dental problems in children under the age of 3. As someone who's interested in giving your child the best dental care possible, you can follow these tips to prevent early childhood caries:
Avoid putting your child to bed with a bottle. Don't put your child to bed with a bottle filled with sugary liquids or a pacifier dipped in sweet substances. If your child needs one for comfort, try using a water-filled bottle or clean pacifier instead.
Keep your child's mouth clean. Dental care starts from day one! Start by wiping your infant's gums with a damp cloth, gauze or infant toothbrush. You can introduce tooth brushing with water and a soft, child-sized toothbrush when you see seven or eight teeth. By the time your child is 2, you should be brushing his or her teeth twice a day.
Use fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride strengthens teeth and prevents cavities. If your water supply does not contain fluoride, your dentist can prescribe fluoride drops. Start using fluoride toothpaste when your child is old enough to spit it out, and only use a pea-sized amount to prevent dental fluorosis.
Limit bottle use. Try using bottles only at mealtimes. When your child is old enough, teach them to drink from a cup, which can't be held in bed. Children who drink from a cup are not as prone to have liquids collect in their mouths as those who use a bottle.
Be aware of your child's dental health while breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is important for child development, but allowing your baby to fall asleep while nursing may have the same effect as putting a child to bed with a bottle. Take measures to prevent tooth decay during breastfeeding.