February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. There are a number of ways parents help establish good oral health, including brushing and flossing and requesting dental sealants for their children’s teeth. But there’s one thing parents can and must do before or while their children’s baby teeth are coming in: take measures to prevent baby bottle tooth decay.
Why Do Kids Need Their Baby Teeth?
We’ve talked before about children’s teeth and why baby teeth are vital for kids’ oral health. Baby teeth are far more than just placeholders until children get their permanent teeth. Baby teeth:
- Aid in chewing a wide variety of foods
- Give the face its shape
- Make space for adult teeth to come in
- Help in speech development
These are all very important things! Because they are so important, parents need to do their best to help their children clean and maintain their baby teeth. Unfortunately, many kids’ teeth are at risk because of what and when they drink from their bottles.
What Is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?
Baby bottle tooth decay is tooth decay that is caused by exposure of baby teeth to drinks containing sugar. You may not realize it, but most drinks contain some sugar. These include milk, formula, juices, teas, soda, and other sweetened drinks, even Pedialyte. The sugar in these drinks feeds bacteria in the mouth and causes plaque to develop. The acid by-products created from bacteria feeding on sugar eat away at teeth and gums and eventually will cause tooth decay and cavities.
Baby bottle tooth decay can happen in breastfed children too or to children whose parents dip their pacifiers in honey or syrup. Because babies don’t brush their teeth after every meal and frequently fall asleep after feeding, bacteria can get out of hand if the proper measures aren’t taken.
How Can You Prevent Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?
The most important countermeasure to take is to never let your child fall asleep sucking on a bottle that has a liquid containing sugar in it. Water is fine; most everything else is not. It’s also useful to clean and massage your baby’s gums and baby teeth every day. Before teeth have erupted, take a washcloth or small piece of gauze, wrap it around your finger and gently massage your baby’s gums.
Once baby teeth are present, begin the habit of brushing your kids’ teeth daily. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles. If the child is too young to spit, use toothpaste that does not contain fluoride. Begin taking your child to the dentist by their first birthday or 6 months after the first tooth erupts.
If you already have a child who takes a bottle to bed and won’t sleep without it, switch over the liquid in the bottle to water. This can be done over time, gradually diluting the milk or juice more and more until it’s entirely water. When your child can drink successfully from a cup, weaning from the bottle can start. Of course, it’s always a good idea to limit sugar in your child’s diet and for more than just maintaining oral health.
If you take the above proactive measures when your child is small, you should not have to worry about baby bottle tooth decay, and you will have established some great habits for good oral health for the future!