There are plenty of reasons why a baby would need a bottle in their first few months and years of life. And while using a bottle has no effects on a baby’s overall health, there is one surprising side effect of bottle use that parents should be aware of—tooth decay! Healthy permanent teeth start with healthy baby teeth, and certain types of bottles, feeding habits, or formulas can contribute to early tooth decay in your baby’s mouth, which can lead to oral health complications if left untreated. Let’s take a look at some of the common symptoms and treatments for baby bottle tooth decay.

What Is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

Sometimes called early childhood caries, this condition happens when babies experience tooth decay, usually in the upper front teeth, because of exposure to sugary drinks, prolonged exposure to liquids except for water, and decay-causing bacteria that can actually be passed from parents to children through saliva. For instance, if a parent puts a child’s feeding spoon, pacifier, or bottle nipple into their own mouth before giving it to a baby, bacteria can be passed on.

Certain formulas can contain too much sugar—remember, sugar can take lots of different forms and is even included in milk! Babies who are given bottles instead of pacifiers when they are uncomfortable have also been shown to have higher incidences of baby bottle tooth decay, as sleeping with a bottle can expose baby teeth to the formula for longer periods of time. Coupled with the presence of bacteria that feed on this sugar and produce enamel-destroying acid, plus a lack of fluoride from either drinking water or a child-safe mouthwash, BBTD can mimic even advanced stages of decay in adults—complete with cavities in toddlers and young children.

What Are The Symptoms Of Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

These kinds of cavities or decay can look like small white spots on your child’s teeth at first. However, because children’s teeth are so small, it can be difficult for parents to spot them. These problems can worsen over time, creating large cavities, infections, or gum disease in toddlers. And while many parents are tempted to think of “baby teeth” as expendable as many fall out on their own, unhealthy, or decayed baby teeth can lead to complications with permanent teeth after they grow in. Baby teeth that are lost too early can prevent permanent teeth from having the space to grow properly, as well as causing lingering infections and bacteria that can cause the same decay issues in adult teeth.

Some of the most common problems associated with Baby Bottle Tooth Decay include:

  • Pain and discomfort in the mouth and around the gumline.
  • Damage to permanent teeth or potential crowding caused by loss of space.
  • Gum disease or Infections that could lead to other health issues.

Extreme cases can require costly and uncomfortable treatment later in life. The most important aspect of diagnosing and treating baby bottle tooth decay is to make an appointment with a specialized pediatric children’s dentist. Treating Baby Bottle Tooth Decay is simple with some basic knowledge and a few healthy habits.

How To Prevent Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

Most dentists and pediatricians agree that early childhood caries is easily preventable. Some quick tips include:

  • Cut down on sugary treats in general.
  • You should only be feeding your child water, milk, or formula in a baby bottle.
  • Wean your child from a bottle completely by age 1.
  • If you choose to give your child juice when they are old enough to use a sippy cup, dilute it with water.
  • Toddlers shouldn’t be drinking soda, as it has no nutritional value and high sugar content. Carbonated beverages have also been shown to speed up tooth decay.
  • Sugary drinks before bedtime are especially harmful as they sit on your child’s teeth throughout the night, causing decay.
  • Only give your child water before bedtime, as saliva production decreases at night, meaning any beverages they consume beforehand will not be naturally rinsed away by saliva.
  • Avoid coating or dipping pacifiers or bottle tips in sugar, honey, or corn syrup.
  • Try brushing your child’s teeth with a small infant’s toothbrush and a tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste. Talk to your dentist about child-safe toothbrush brands!

How to Treat Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

If your child is already afflicted by tooth decay, the good news is that pediatric dentists can prescribe treatment to reverse decay in children! Minor decay can actually be reversed with the application of fluoride, including special toothpaste, mouthwashes, or specialized treatments like silver diamine fluoride (SDF), which is applied in a dentist’s office. Severe decay can also be treated with stainless steels crowns, which can be kept in place until your child’s permanent teeth come in.

Children should see a dentist as early as 1-year-old, and children’s dentistry is especially important even if all of their baby teeth haven’t emerged yet. If you have any questions about the health of your child’s teeth, contact Northern Nevada Children’s Dental and Orthodontics—with or without dental insurance!