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There are a number of problems that affect the oral health of children, including tooth decay, thumb sucking, tongue thrusting, lip sucking, and early tooth loss. Even though baby teeth are eventually replaced with permanent teeth, keeping baby teeth healthy is important to a child's overall health and well-being.
Baby bottle tooth decay
Baby bottle tooth decay (also called early childhood caries, nursing caries, and nursing bottle syndrome) occurs when a baby's teeth are in frequent contact with sugars from liquid carbohydrates, such as fruit juices, milk, formula, fruit juice diluted with water, sugar water or any other sweet drink. Human breast milk can cause tooth decay as well. As these liquids break down in the mouth into simple sugars and are allowed to sit in the mouth, bacteria start feeding on the sugars, causing tooth decay.
If left untreated, decayed teeth can cause pain and make it difficult to chew and eat. Also, baby teeth serve as "space savers" for adult teeth. If baby teeth are damaged or destroyed, they can't help guide permanent teeth into their proper position, possibly resulting in crowded or crooked permanent teeth. Badly decayed baby teeth could lead to an abscessed tooth, with the possibility of infection spreading elsewhere.
How do I prevent baby bottle tooth decay?
Some tips to prevent baby bottle tooth decay include:
- During the day, to calm or comfort your baby, don't give a bottle filled with sugary liquids or milk; instead, give plain water or substitute a pacifier.
- At anytime, don't dip your baby's pacifier in sugar, honey, or any sugary liquid.
- At bedtime, don't put your baby to bed with a bottle filled with sugary liquids (watered-down fruit juice or milk still increases the risk of decay). Give plain water.
- Don't allow your baby to nurse continuously throughout the night while sleeping, since human breast milk can cause decay. Use a pacifier or give a bottle filled with plain water instead.
- Don't add sugar to your child's food
- Use a wet cloth or gauze to wipe your child's teeth and gums after each feeding. This helps remove any bacteria-forming plaque and excess sugar that have built up on the teeth and gums.
- Ask your dentist about your baby's fluoride needs. If your drinking water is not fluoridated, fluoride supplements or fluoride treatments may be needed.
- Teach your baby to drink from a cup by his or her first birthday. Moving to a "sippy cup" reduces the teeth's exposure to sugars; however, constant sipping from the cup can still result in decay unless it is filled with water.