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If you thought your baby’s decaying milk teeth are of no concern because they would be replaced anyway, you would be wrong. If baby teeth are lost to decay, they can lead to poor eating habits, speech problems, and crooked teeth in the later stages and even potentially life-threatening infections. Continue reading to know all about baby teeth decay and how to prevent them.
What Causes Tooth Decay in Babies
Tooth decay in babies- also known as baby bottle tooth decay or early childhood caries, develop when bacteria in your baby’s mouth produce acid that damage the teeth. The bacteria are contracted via parents and caregivers through saliva as the medium when they share spoons, cups or taste foods before they are fed. Tooth decay is fuelled by sugary liquids and foods that stick to the teeth throughout the day and are converted to acids by bacterial action. These acids then dissolve the outer parts of the teeth which lead to their decay.
The most common way for teeth decay to happen is when parents put their babies to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, sugared juices or soft drinks. It also happens when babies are fed anything other than water from their sippy cups between meals or before nap time.
What are the Signs of Tooth Decay in Infants?
Some of the early signs of baby bottle tooth decay are white spots on the gum line which are first seen on the upper front teeth. They can be hard to spot at first, even for the child’s dentist without specialized equipment. Once seen, it has to be acted on quickly to stop further damage and decay. Other signs of advanced teeth decay include brown or black spots on the teeth, bad breath and swollen gums.
Do You Need to Worry about Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?
Baby bottle tooth decay is an issue that needs to be taken seriously as it can have long-term repercussions. In the short term, if left untreated, decayed teeth can cause infection and pain. If the teeth are severely decayed they would even have to be extracted which can affect the baby in many ways. Since teeth are needed for chewing, smiling and speaking properly, early teeth loss can lead to poor eating habits and speech problems which can worsen as they grow older. Baby teeth also act as placeholders for adult teeth and if they are extracted due to decay, there is a high chance the adult teeth can misalign and grow crooked.
How to Treat Baby’s Tooth Decay
The baby bottle tooth decay treatment is started as soon as the pediatric dentist notices the symptoms in your baby’s teeth. The treatment procedures are as follows:
- When white spots are seen, the dentist uses a fluoride varnish to remineralize all the teeth. This treatment helps rebuild the surface enamel of the teeth and reverses decay in its early stages.
- Early stage treatment also includes changes to diet to stop the progression of the teeth decay. Changes could include limiting juices, acidic foods and citrus juices, substituting formula, milk of juice in the bottle with water.
- Diet changes are only done under the supervision of your child’s paediatrician. If the decay is spotted at a more advanced stage fluoride treatments are no longer sufficient. Such symptoms include; brown or black spots on the teeth, bad breath, bleeding and swollen gums, fever and irritability which can indicate infection.
- Severe teeth decay in children is treated in much the same way as in adults. Stainless steel crown is often used for the teeth as they last long and seldom need follow-up treatments.
- Restoration work is carried out under general anaesthesia depending on the child’s age. In severe cases of decay, the damaged tooth is extracted.
How Can You Prevent Infant Tooth Decay
Here are 10 tips on avoiding baby bottle tooth decay:
- Maintain oral hygiene: Good oral hygiene in your baby begins with you, so maintain oral hygiene even before the baby is born. Visit the dentist and ensure you keep your mouth clean.
- Start early: Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, care for your baby’s teeth from the start. From birth to 12 months, wipe their gums with a clean washcloth. When the first tooth breaks out, brush it softly with a smear of fluoride toothpaste using a soft baby brush. From 12-36 months brush your baby’s teeth twice a day for 2 minutes ideally post breakfast and before bed.
- Refrain from putting the baby to sleep with a bottle: Avoid putting your baby to bed with a bottle or food as this lets sugars linger in the mouth. It also increases the risk of ear infections.
- Avoid long use of bottles and pacifiers: Do not use their sippy cups or bottles as pacifiers or let them walk around with one for long periods of time. If they want their bottle or sippy cup in between meal times, offer only water in them.
- Check for Fluorine content: Fluorine is important to prevent tooth decay; therefore get your water supply checked for fluorine content. If your use bore well or non-fluoridated water, your child’s dentist would prescribe fluorine supplement or apply fluoride varnish to your child’s teeth.
- Emphasize on correct feeding practices: Teach them to drink from a cup as early as possible. Drinking from a cup makes it less likely for liquids to collect around the teeth. Also, cups cannot be taken to bed.
- Water in sippy cups: If they must have a sippy cup or bottle for long periods of time, fill it only with water. Do this between meal times when they are thirsty.
- Keep a check on the sweet consumption: Limit sweets and other sticky foods you give them. Gummies, candies, fruit roll-ups, cookies and other sugary foods tend to stick to the teeth for a long time. Teach them to clean their teeth with their tongue immediately after eating those.
- Feed juices the right way: Juices should only be served during meals or not at all. The AAP recommended against feeding babies under 6 months any kind of juice. Juices given to babies between 6 to 12 months should be limited to 120ml per day and should be served diluted with half water. For children between 1 to 6 years, juice consumption per day should be limited to 100-170ml per day.
- See a Dentist: Make an appointment to see a pediatric dentist before your child turns 1. If there are any concerns regarding the development of the teeth, the dentist would be able to diagnose and treat sooner.
By maintaining healthy foods habits and a good oral hygiene, baby bottle tooth decay can be staved off.