Early childhood caries, also known as baby bottle caries, baby bottle tooth decay, or bottle rot, is a dental disease characterised by severe decay in the teeth of infants or young children.
Early childhood caries is a very common bacterial infection and is caused when sweetened liquids or those with natural sugars (like milk, formula, and fruit juice) stay on an infant's teeth for a long time.
White spots on a tooth’s surface are early symptoms of baby bottle tooth decay.
At this stage, fluoride treatment can be used to remineralise all of the teeth and reverse the decay.
As per the American Dental Association, “It’s not just what you put in your child's bottle that causes decay, but how often and for how long. Giving your child a bottle of sweetened liquid many times a day isn’t a good idea. Allowing your child to fall asleep with a bottle during naps or at night can also harm the child’s teeth.”
If teeth become infected or are lost too early due to baby bottle tooth decay, your child may end up developing poor eating habits, speech problems, crooked teeth, and damaged adult teeth.
How to avoid baby bottle caries
Few simple steps can prevent tooth decay. They include:
• Wipe the baby’s gums with a clean gauze pad or washcloth after each feeding.
• Begin brushing your child's teeth as soon as his or her first tooth erupts.
• Try not to share saliva with the baby through common use of feeding spoons or licking pacifiers.
• When your child’s teeth come, brush them gently with a child-size toothbrush.
• Supervise brushing until your child can be counted on to spit and not swallow toothpaste —usually not before he or she is 6 or 7.
• Encourage your child to drink from a cup by his/her first birthday.
• Clean and massage gums in areas without teeth.
• Start flossing once all the baby teeth have come in.
• Make sure your child is getting enough fluoride, which helps lessen cavities. Ask your dentist if you need to use a supplement.
• Schedule regular dental visits by your child's first birthday. Dentists also offer special sealant coatings, which can help prevent tooth decay in children.
Other suggestions to help prevent baby bottle tooth decay:
• Don’t fill bottles with soft drinks. Soft drinks are not recommended for children, as they have no nutritional value.
• Never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle.
• Never give your child a pacifier dipped in anything sweet.
• Reduce the sugar in your child’s diet, especially between meals.
If severe decay is spotted like brown or black spots on the teeth, bleeding or swollen gums, fever, swelling or irritability, which could indicate infection and bad breath, then tooth fillings will need to be done and if pain has started pulpectomy or nerve treatment can also be initiated.
The best approach to baby bottle tooth decay is prevention. If your child does experience early childhood dental caries, you and your child's dentist can work together to determine the best treatment options.
(Dr Richa Raj is a practising Dental Surgeon at Pearly White Dental Center, Al Khuwair. For any queries call at +968 9705 2624 or mail at [email protected])