Early Childhood Caries or Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
Even though they are temporary, your child’s baby teeth are important, and are still susceptible to cavities. Tooth decay in infants and toddlers is often referred to as ‘Baby Bottle Tooth Decay’, or ‘Early Childhood Caries’. Children need strong, healthy teeth to chew their food, speak and have a good-looking smile. Their first teeth also help make sure their adult teeth come in correctly. These primary teeth hold space for permanent teeth to erupt and contribute greatly to a child’s self esteem.
It’s important to start infants off with good oral care to help protect their teeth for decades to come. Being parents, one need to realize that a baby’s teeth are at risk for decay as soon as they appear in the mouth. By the time the cavities are large enough for you to see, it may be too late to save the child’s teeth.
What is early childhood caries?
Early childhood caries (ECC), also referred to as baby bottle tooth decay, is a condition that can destroy the teeth of an infant or young child. It is a severe form of decay in the primary (baby) teeth due to prolonged and frequent exposure to sugary liquids such as formula, milk, breast milk, juice, and sodas.
What causes early childhood caries?
Plaque is a thin, sticky film of bacteria that continually forms on everyone’s teeth and gums – even babies. The bacteria found in plaque use sugars to produce acid. After frequent, repeated acid attacks, tooth decay can occur. It’s not just what children drink, but how often and how long their teeth are exposed to decay-causing acids.
If a child goes to bed with a bottle of juice, milk, or formula, there is a chance that their teeth can decay. That’s called Early Childhood Caries (ECC). It can be very painful and sometimes surgery is needed to fix the harm caused by ECC. Your child can get the germs that cause tooth decay or gum disease from anyone who has these problems. Baby Bottle Tooth Decay most often occurs in the upper front teeth, but other teeth may also be affected.
There are many factors which can cause tooth decay. One common cause is the frequent, prolonged exposure of the baby’s teeth to drinks that contain sugar. Tooth decay can occur when the baby is put to bed with a bottle, or when a bottle is used as a pacifier for a fussy baby.
Tooth decay is a disease that can begin with cavity-causing bacteria being passed from the mother (or primary caregiver) to the infant. These bacteria are passed through the saliva. When the mother puts the baby’s feeding spoon in her mouth, or cleans a pacifier in her mouth, the bacteria can be passed to the baby.I f your infant or toddler does not receive an adequate amount of fluoride, they may also have an increased risk for tooth decay. The good news is that decay is preventable.
Symptoms of more severe decay include:
• Brown or black spots on the teeth
• Bleeding or swollen gums
• Fever, swelling or irritability, which could indicate infection
• Bad breath
If your child shows any of these symptoms, it’s imperative to see a dentist as soon as possible. If decay spreads, your child could face extensive restoration treatments and even tooth loss.
How to keep baby safe from ECC?
Wipe your baby’s gums and teeth with a soft damp cloth after feeding, before bedtime, and at naptime. Don’t let your child take formula, milk, juice, sugar-water, or food to bed. If your child must take a bottle to bed, fill it only with water. Water can’t harm teeth the way other drinks and food can. You and your dentist: partners to protect your child. Gently lift your child’s upper lip and look for white or dark spots on their teeth. If you see these spots on their teeth, make an appointment with your child’s dentist right away. If your child does not have a dentist, ask your doctor for the name of a dentist who will see young children.
Preventing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
• Try not to share saliva with the baby through common use of feeding spoons or licking pacifiers. After each feeding, wipe your child’s gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or washcloth.
• When your child’s teeth come in, brush them gently with a child-size toothbrush and a smear (or grain of rice sized amount) of fluoride toothpaste until the age of 3.
• Brush the teeth with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste from the ages of 3 to 6.
• 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.
• Place only formula, milk or breast milk in bottles. Avoid filling the bottle with liquids such as sugar water, juice or soft drinks.
• Infants should finish their bedtime and nap time bottles before going to bed.
• If your child uses a pacifier, provide one that is clean—don’t dip it in sugar or honey.
• Encourage your child to drink from a cup by his/her first birthday.
• Encourage healthy eating habits.
• When your child’s first tooth appears, talk to your dentist about scheduling the first dental visit. Treat the first dental visit as you would a well-baby checkup with the child’s physician.
• Remember: starting early is the key to a lifetime of good dental health.
• Foods containing proteins and fats cannot be utilized by bacteria to produce acids. They tend to increase the ph levels and neutralize the acids that may have been produced eg seeds and nuts, raw vegetables and fruits.
• Parental tooth cleaning, especially with a very small amount of fluoridated dentifrice, is helpful when accomplished at least once a day. Twice a day is even better.
• A counseling approach, providing the parent with choices has been found effective. The sugar substitute xylitol has been found to be effective at reducing levels of harmful micro-organisms in the mouth, and has recently been promoted as a cavity reducing agent in the form of disposable wipes.
The Importance of Treatment for Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
It’s a common misconception that the premature loss of baby teeth isn’t a problem. After all, these teeth are going to fall out anyway, so why worry if they fall out earlier than scheduled?
In fact, there are many reasons to be concerned about the premature loss of baby teeth.
The permanent teeth — which will serve your child into adulthood — are present in the jawbone from your baby’s early years. The baby teeth act as a placeholder for the permanent teeth. If they are lost prematurely, the spacing of the permanent teeth can be affected. Premature loss of baby teeth can lead to misaligned permanent teeth along with other issues that could require extensive orthodontic treatment. Tooth loss can also make it difficult for your child to eat a healthy, nutritious diet. It can also affect his or her ability to speak properly. Proper diction requires the presence of front teeth, so premature tooth loss could lead to a need for future speech therapy.
Bad hygiene habits could follow your child into adolescence and adulthood. The best way to ensure ongoing dental health as your child matures is to be sure that he or she learns good oral hygiene from the beginning. 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.