What is “bottle decay” – or what some parents may have heard called “bottle rot?” In very basic terms, it’s when cavities form in a baby’s teeth. As you can imagine, it’s a serious problem when this occurs. Even though your child will lose all of their baby teeth eventually, baby teeth still play a vital role in their oral health. Healthy baby teeth are important for chewing and speaking, as well as making sure that permanent teeth come in properly.
What Causes Bottle Decay?
The biggest cause of the decay of a baby’s teeth is prolonged sugar exposure in their mouths. Filling baby bottles with juice or other sugary drinks is a common cause of baby tooth decay. Only put breastmilk, formula, cow’s milk, other milk alternatives, or water in your baby’s bottle. Putting a baby to bed with a bottle is another common cause of bottle decay. Even if there is just milk in the bottle, extended exposure to the natural sugars present in milk can lead to decay.
Start Good Habits Early
Make brushing a daily routine that you teach your kids early in their life. Even before their teeth have erupted, you can simply wipe your baby’s gums with a clean, damp washcloth. Once their baby teeth start coming in, choose an age-appropriate toothbrush and toothpaste and gently brush your baby’s teeth.
If you’re having a hard time getting your baby to let you brush their teeth, try having two toothbrushes – one that you hold and one that you let your child hold. Oftentimes, babies and toddlers like to mimic what they see adults doing. You can also try brushing your own teeth and letting them watch. Having their own toothbrush to hold gives them an opportunity to try and mimic your behavior.
Don’t Sleep with Bottles
Even though parents may have done it for generations, studies have shown that you should not give a baby a bottle to go to bed or take a nap. This can lead to the baby keeping the bottle in their mouth for too long. Also, going to bed with a bottle leads to significantly longer periotimes that their teeth are exposed to sugar.
Breaking Bedtime Bottle Habits
If you need to break the habit of going to bed with a bottle, try filling the bottle with water and eventually stop offering the bottle altogether. If your baby fusses at the change to water, try mixing in some milk with the water. You can gradually increase the amount of water each time until they’re used to just water.
It’s a good idea to limit the amount of sugar that your baby or toddler takes in for many health reasons, including their oral health. Try not to offer juice, candy, cookies, or other super sugary foods until the age of two, if possible. You may have also heard an old-fashioned cure for fussiness is to dip a pacifier in honey or sugar. We highly discourage this as it leads to unnecessary sugar intake and build-up on teeth. (And please be aware that infants under the age of 1 should never have honey as it can contain bacteria that cause botulism. Their tiny immune systems aren’t strong enough to fight it off yet!)
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a baby see the dentist for the first time by their first birthday or after their first tooth erupts – whichever happens first. You may think that it seems soon, but early appointments establish all kinds of good habits. Contact us to set one up!
What to Do if You’re Concerned
Are you worried that your baby may be developing or have symptoms of bottle decay? We are here to help! A quick exam can help give us answers about your baby’s teeth and calm your fears. We can also give recommendations on toothbrushes and toothpaste and help answer other questions.