Bottle rot tooth decay is caused by the frequent and long-term exposure of a child’s teeth to liquids containing sugars, such as milk, formula, fruit juice, sodas, and other sweetened drinks. The sugars in these liquids pool around the infant’s teeth and gums, feeding the bacteria that cause plaque. Every time a child consumes a sugary liquid, acid attacks the teeth and gums and after enough exposure, tooth decay can begin. The condition can also be associated with breast-fed infants who have prolonged feeding habits or with children whose pacifiers are frequently dipped in honey, sugar or syrup. The sweet fluid left in the mouth increases the chances of cavities while the infant is sleeping.
Never allow children to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, juice or other sweetened liquids. Clean and massage the baby’s gums to help establish healthy teeth and to aid in teething. Once a day, wrap a moistened washcloth around the finger and gently massage the gum tissues. Plaque removal activities should begin upon eruption of the first baby tooth. When brushing a child’s teeth, use a soft toothbrush and a pea-shaped amount of fluoride toothpaste, using brushing instructions given to you by your dentist or hygienist.
Preventing baby bottle tooth decay involves changes in a child’s diet and feeding process. Using a series of small changes over a period of time is usually the best approach and will eventually leads to better oral health. The following are recommended steps:
- Gradually dilute the bottle contents with water over a period of 2-3 weeks.
- Once that period is over, if you give a child a bottle, fill it with water or give the child a clean pacifier recommended by a dentist. The only safe liquid to put in a bottle to prevent baby bottle tooth decay is water.
- Decrease consumption of sugar, especially between meals.
- Children should be weaned from the bottle as soon as they can drink from a cup, but the bottle should not be taken away too soon, since the sucking motion aids in the development of the tongue and facial muscles.
Giving an infant a sugary drink at nap or nighttime is harmful because during sleep, the flow of saliva decreases, allowing the sugary liquids to linger on the child’s teeth for an extended period of time. If left untreated, pain and infection can result. Severely decayed teeth may need to be extracted. If teeth are infected or lost too early due to baby bottle tooth decay, your child may develop poor eating habits, speech problems, crooked teeth, and damaged adult teeth. Healthy baby teeth will usually result in healthy permanent teeth.