The frequent consumption of liquids containing fermentable carbohydrates (e.g., juice, milk, flavoured milk, formula, soda) increases the risk of dental caries due to prolonged contact between sugars in the liquid and cariogenic bacteria on the teeth. Poor feeding practices without appropriate preventive measures can lead to a distinctive pattern of caries in susceptible infants and toddlers commonly known as baby bottle tooth decay (BBTD), a form of severe early childhood caries (ECC). Frequent bottle feeding at night, and extended and repetitive use of a no-spill training cup are associated with ECC. Children experiencing caries as infants or toddlers have a much greater probability of subsequent caries in primary and permanent teeth.
As soon as a baby’s first teeth appear—usually by age six months or so—the child is susceptible to decay. This condition is often referred to as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay or Early Childhood Caries (cavities). In some unfortunate cases, infants and toddlers have experienced severe tooth decay that has resulted in dental restorations or extractions. The good news is that decay is preventable.
Decay occurs when sweetened liquids are given and are left clinging to an infant’s teeth for long periods. Many sweet liquids cause problems, including milk, formula and fruit juice. Bacteria in the mouth use these sugars as food. They then produce acids that attack the teeth. Each time your child drinks these liquids, acids attack for 20 minutes or longer. After many attacks, the teeth can decay.
It’s not just what you put in your child’s bottle that causes decay, but how often — and for how long a time. 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.
Here’s how to give your kids a good oral care education for a lifetime of healthy habits! When it comes to kids’ optimum oral health, an early start makes all the difference.
Infancy – Avoid nursing cavities by staying away from prolonged nursing and bottles full of milk or juice at bedtime. Suckling water at bedtime is the perfect comfort. Check with your doctor about fluoride drops while you breast feed. Clean your baby’s mouth with gauze or a soft washcloth after every meal, and after the first teeth come in, use a wee dab of fluoride toothpaste on an infant toothbrush.
Toddlers – Begin regular check-ups every six months after your child’s orientation at 1-2 years of age. Teach your child the art of brushing, ensuring all teeth are being cleaned. Introduce flossing once the child has a few teeth side by side. Encourage smart snacks and high-nutrition foods that don’t promote tooth decay like fruit, cheese, and vegetables. If your child is on any medication, remember to brush after every dose. Medicine can be loaded with sugar.
When they get older – Put them in charge of flossing when their dexterity allows, but continue regular supervision and monitoring. Continue fluoride supplements, if required, until all of the adult teeth have erupted into the mouth. Consider sealants which are plastic coatings that can keep cavities away from chewing surfaces.