Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
- Primary (baby) teeth last for one-sixth of a person’s life
- Chewing on well-formed teeth helps the jaw bones to grow and develop properly
- Baby teeth provide and maintain proper space for the eruption of permanent teeth
- Baby teeth are necessary for proper chewing of food, and normal digestive processes
- Baby teeth are also necessary for the development of sounds and proper speech development
- Healthy baby teeth are also important for a child’s self esteem and well being
- Children do not lose all of their baby teeth at once. Certain baby molars are expected to be in the child’s mouth until 12-13 years of age.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay – How does it happen?
Almost all liquids except water contain either naturally occurring sugars or manufactured sugars. How often your child drinks liquids containing sugar, and how long the sugar stays in the mouth are important.
When an infant sucks on a bottle, the milk, juice, formula and even breast milk pools around their teeth. The sugars in these drinks combine with bacteria and create acids that attack the teeth. The acids dissolve the tooth structure and cause decay. The condition is also known as early childhood caries, baby bottle mouth syndrome or nursing caries syndrome.
Saliva not only helps to dilute acids and wash away food and liquid in the mouth, it helps to neutralize acids due to its alkalinity. This neutralization of the acid helps to minimize the harmful effect of acid on the teeth.
During sleep, the flow of saliva decreases, which means the liquid pools around the teeth more and is not washed away by the saliva, or neutralized. (See our blog about the functions of saliva). So when an infant is put to bed with a bottle of anything but water, it can result in baby bottle tooth decay.
Baby bottle tooth decay usually starts in the back of the front teeth, and often goes unnoticed by parents because it can’t be seen. New teeth are more vulnerable to decay.
Baby bottle tooth decay affects the upper front teeth of infants and toddlers more often. Lower front teeth are in general less affected since they are covered by the tongue.
- The first sign of Baby Bottle Tooth Decay or Early Childhood Caries (ECC) appears as white chalky spots on the surface of the upper front teeth or whitish lines at the base of the teeth along the gum line. This is from the decalcification of the enamel by the acids (If a parent notices any white spots on the teeth, a dentist visit is warranted. At this stage, Early Childhood Caries may still be reversible with prompt treatment).
- The process then begins to accelerate. If left unchecked, the “white spot” lesions can rapidly develop to brown spots and general decay of the teeth. Cavities may look like dark pits or holes and teeth will appear eaten away or broken
- In advanced cases, the crowns of the teeth are completely destroyed, leaving decayed brownish-black stumps. By this time, baby teeth may either require crowns, root canal therapy, or even extraction.
- The child may complain of toothache and difficulty in eating food
If baby bottle tooth decay is left untreated, pain and infection can result. Severely decayed teeth may need to be removed, and the infections could affect the child’s total health.
Children may smile less often and their self-esteem may be affected by others’ reactions to their browned, decayed, or missing teeth, or a mouthful of silver caps. Dental repair of baby bottle caries is an involved and expensive prospect for young children, often requiring hospitalization, general anesthesia, and intravenous antibiotics to treat, repair, or extract the affected teeth.
Join our next blog for information on how to prevent baby bottle tooth decay!