What is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

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baby bottle tooth decay

Baby bottle tooth decay is pretty much what it sounds like – tooth decay in very small children. It’s also known as early childhood caries, nursing caries and nursing bottle syndrome, and happens when a baby’s teeth are in regular contact with sugars. These sugars can come from any number of things, from fruit juices and milk, formula, diluted fruit juice, sugar water or any other sweet drink. It can set in with very young children – even those who are being breastfed. Often a baby will fall asleep with un-swallowed milk in its mouth after feeding, and this provides a breeding ground for the bacteria that feed on sugars in the milk and cause tooth decay. If baby bottle tooth decay is left untreated, it can cause pain and difficulty chewing and swallowing in the short term.

What are The Effects of Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

In the long term, it can cause problems for adult teeth growing in. A child’s baby teeth are essentially acting as ‘space savers’ for the adult teeth. But if those baby teeth are damaged or destroyed, then they can’t guide the adult teeth into the right position. Best case scenario this means crooked adult teeth that will cost money to straighten, and at worst it can cause an abscessed tooth, and that infection can spread elsewhere in the body.

How can I Avoid Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

Luckily there are a few ways to avoid baby bottle tooth decay. To start with, during the day try to avoid giving your baby milk or sugary drinks to calm it – instead give plain water of a dummy. If you are giving a dummy, make sure you don’t dip it in sugar, honey or any other kind of sugary liquid to make them take it. If your baby is nursing at night, make sure to remove your breast from the baby’s mouth when it falls asleep, and use a wet cloth or gauze to wipe the baby’s teeth and gums after each feeding to reduce the risk of plaque build-up.

When a child no longer requires a night feed, only allow water in a bottle as a pacifier at night.

There is very little guidance on how to manage baby teeth and on-demand night breastfeeding past the age of 12 months in relation to dental decay. Recent systematic reviews highlight shortcomings in existing studies as confounding factors cannot be controlled (confounding factors, in this case, are toothbrushing, fluoride use, and intake of sugary drinks and foods, which will all impact the chances of getting decay) and therefore conclusions cannot be drawn.

This makes the advice to continue on-demand breastfeeding to 2 years and beyond from The World Health Organisation, just a tad confusing for both parents and professionals. This means, when you ask your dentist, nurse or doctor for advice we are basically just guessing.

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