Baby bottle blues

What causes bottle rot?

Tips for preventing bottle rot

Giving your child a bottle of milk at naptime or bedtime might comfort them. It might also give you some well deserved peace and quiet, but the long-term effects can be detrimental to your child’s dental health. A likely condition that can develop is called baby bottle decay and it’s more common than some parents might think.

Why it occurs

Bacteria in your child’s mouth feeds on the sugar. It makes the baby’s mouth more acidic. As a result, tooth enamel breaks down more easily. “Putting a baby to bed with a bottle other than water can lead to severe and rapid tooth decay,” says Dayna L. Olstein, DMD of Orange County Pediatric Dentistry in Monroe. “If the liquid clings to teeth or gums for long periods of time, it can damage the enamel as well as cause pain, sensitivity, and possibly nerve infection.”

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When it’s too late

Geri-Lynn Waldman, DDS of Hudson Valley Pediatric Dentistry in Middletown says she sees patients once it’s already too late. “I think for a lot of parents, it’s easier for them to give their kids something to comfort them to put them to sleep. I think the one thing that I see is babies with a lot of tooth decay from breast milk. I probably see it more often from that than anything else.”

Warning signs

Early indications that cavities have or will form is white or brown spots on the teeth. If not treated, decay can lead to dental infections and the potential need for extractions of the baby teeth. It can also enter underlying bone structure, which can delay the development of permanent teeth. Many people assume that since baby teeth fall out, they don’t need to treat the cavities. Waldman says this is part of the problem.

The consequences

“I’ve seen kids where I’ve had to take out almost every tooth in their mouth by the time they were 4 or 5 years old,” says Waldman. “The teeth were black and broken down. All you see is a black circle in the mouth where the tooth used to be. It rotted right to the gums and all that was left was a piece of the root.” Waldman says sometimes the problems are hard to spot unless parents take a close look. Other unfortunate side effects that accompany decay are facial swelling and fever.

Neglected cavities can lead to problems which affect developing permanent teeth. Primary teeth, or baby teeth are important for proper chewing and eating. They provide space for the permanent teeth. They make way for normal development of the jaw bones and muscles.

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“If your child won’t fall asleep without the bottle and sugary beverage (milk, juice, etc.), gradually dilute the bottle’s contents with water over a period of two to three weeks,” says Olstein. “After each feeding, wiping the baby’s gums and teeth with a damp washcloth or gauze pad can help remove plaque.”

Five ways to help prevent children’s cavities

  • Make regular trips to the dentist for check-ups and cleanings. If there is a problem, you’ll catch it early.

  • Stay away from candies and sugary drinks that stick to teeth including fruit roll-ups, fruit snacks and things like jellybeans.

  • Make sure your child eats a healthy diet.

  • Practice excellent oral hygiene. Brush after breakfast and after dinner. Start flossing as soon as teeth have contact with food, especially when teeth are close together. Avoid giving a child anything after they’ve brushed their teeth at bedtime.

  • Keep track of fluoride levels in the water you drink at home. Fluoridated water has fluoride at a level that is effective for preventing cavities.

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Sandy Tomcho is a professional writer who lives in Orange County. Her work can be found in publications throughout the Hudson Valley. parents get great advice