Your child’s baby teeth are at risk for decay as soon as they first appear. Tooth decay in infants and toddlers is often referred to as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay or Early Childhood Caries. It most often occurs in the upper front teeth. The good news is that decay is preventable.

Baby teeth serve many important functions. Children need strong, healthy teeth to chew their food, speak and have a good-looking smile. But one of the most important jobs for baby teeth is to save a space in the jaw for the adult teeth. If a baby tooth is lost early the teeth beside it tend to move and later when adult teeth try to erupt there is no space for them, leaving a crowded smile and bite.

Tips for Prevention of Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

  • Lower the risk of the baby’s infection with decay causing bacteria. This can be done by improving the oral health of the mother/father/caregiver which reduces the number of bacteria in their mouths that could be transferred to baby. To prevent transferring bacteria do not share spoons, sippy cups or straws with the baby.
  • After each feeding, wipe the baby’s gums with a damp gauze or washcloth. This will remove plaque and bits of food that can harm erupting teeth. When your child’s teeth begin to erupt, brush them gently with a child’s size toothbrush and water. (Consult with your child’s dentist or physician if you are considering using fluoride toothpaste before age two.)
  • When your child can be counted on to spit and not swallow toothpaste (usually not before age two), begin brushing the teeth with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. The American Dental Association recommends fluoride toothpaste; ask your dentist about your child’s fluoride needs.
  • Brush your child’s teeth until he or she is six years old or beyond. Children don’t have the dexterity needed to clean their teeth thoroughly.
  • Place only formula, milk or breast milk in bottles. Avoid filling the bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks.
  • Infants should finish their bedtime and naptime bottles before going to bed so that milk doesn’t sit in their mouths over time.
  • If your child uses a pacifier, provide one that is clean — don’t dip it in sugar or honey, or put it in your mouth before giving it to the child.
  • Encourage children to drink from a cup by their first birthday and discourage frequent or prolonged use of a sippy cup.
  • Encourage healthy eating habits. Serve nutritious snacks (cheese, nuts, fruits and veggies) and limit sweets to mealtimes.
  • Ensure that your child has adequate exposure to fluoride. Discuss your child’s fluoride needs with your dentist or pediatrician.

Treatment of Early Childhood Caries

When the first baby tooth appears, talk to your dentist about scheduling your child’s first visit. Treat the first dental visit as you would a well-child checkup with the baby’s physician. It’s beneficial for the first dental visit to occur within six months after the first tooth appears, but no later than your child’s first birthday. Although this may seem early, starting early is the key to positive experiences for your child at his dental office and a lifetime of good dental health.

–Suzanne K. Winans, DDS