Many people think that, since baby teeth are temporary, they are not as important as permanent teeth. However, the first teeth are vital for speaking, smiling, and chewing. They also serve as placeholders for permanent teeth.
Just like the case of adult teeth, infants or toddler’s teeth are susceptible to dental problems, with cavities taking the top slot. Tooth decay in kids under the age of five is known as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay or simply Early Childhood Caries (ECC) or just bottle mouth. ECC usually occur on the upper front teeth (incisors). This condition is caused by the excessive presence of sugar on the teeth. In most cases, sugar is found in infant food formulas, milk, and other artificially sweetened snacks and juices.
It is important to note that, if this issue is left untreated, it results in infection and can cause severe pain. A child may end up losing a severely decayed tooth. If teeth are infected leading to early tooth loss due to early childhood caries, it may affect infant’s eating habits, lead to crooked teeth, damaged adult teeth, or even cause speech challenges. In fact, the probability of adult teeth being crooked is immensely higher. Therefore, as a parent, you have the responsibility to help prevent the occurrence of tooth decay in your child’s teeth. There is a great need to start infants/toddlers off with good oral care, hygiene, and cleanings. Parents should learn how to keep children’s teeth free of cavities at a young age so they will continue to have healthy teeth in the years to come!
Signs and symptoms of early childhood caries
ECC mostly affects infants under the age of five, and the condition can occur on any of the teeth. Nonetheless, the decay usually occurs on the upper front teeth (or upper incisors) and it appears as a brown or dark spot on the teeth. You may notice a severe and painful swelling around the teeth if the decay worsens.
Factors causing baby bottle tooth decay
- Long exposure to sugary drinks
One of the most common causes of early childhood caries is prolonged and frequent exposure of baby’s teeth to drinks with a high content of sugar. In most cases, this occurs when a child is put to bed with a baby bottle to lull him to sleep. When your child falls asleep with the bottle in his mouth, the sugary drink (milk or juice) coats the teeth, accelerating the rate of tooth decay. As we all know, bacteria in the mouth feast on the sugar, then multiply and give out acid as their waste. The acid then attacks the tooth enamel, resulting in the condition we are talking about!
- Mother-to-child transmission
ECC is not only caused by exposing your child to sugary drinks in their bottles for an extended time, but also through transmission from a third party, often the mother or a caregiver. Tooth decay can start with cavity-causing bacteria being transmitted from the mother to the infant. Under this factor, the medium of transmission is the saliva. The bacteria can be passed when the mother puts the child’s feeding spoon or bottle in her mouth or cleans the pacifier in her mouth, and then puts the item into the child’s mouth without further cleaning.
Ways to prevent Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
As previously mentioned, it is possible to prevent this condition by being conscious of your child’s bottle-feeding habits as well as observing proper dental hygiene. Below are some of the ways to prevent ECC:
- Do not share saliva with your child through common use of bottles, spoons, or pacifiers. It a good practice to wipe your child’s gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or even washcloth;
- Refrain from putting your child to sleep with a bottle of milk or juice. In addition, do not allow your child to walk around with milk or juice bottles dangling from his mouth;
- Do not fill baby bottles with soft drinks, juices, or sugar-water;
- Encourage your child to learn how to drink milk or any other formula from a cup when he is six months old;
- By one year of age, remember to see a dentist for your child’s first oral examination and set up regular dental checkups.