A child’s baby teeth play an important role in their ability to chew, speak, and look good in family photos. Baby teeth also play a role in creating space in your child’s jaw for the formation of their adult teeth. If your child loses a baby tooth at too young of an age, that space could find itself filled by the surrounding teeth looking for a little extra elbow room. When your child’s adult teeth do begin to form, there may not be enough room, which could cause the teeth to form crowded or crooked. Ensuring your child enjoys strong oral hygiene at a young age will help provide them a lifetime of strong teeth and healthy gums.


Baby Bottle Tooth Decay


Unfortunately the onset of gum disease and tooth decay doesn’t wait until your child’s teeth get a little older. Your child’s baby teeth find themselves at risk of decay from the moment they form, which is generally around six months. Baby bottle tooth decay (also known as dental caries) occurs most frequently to the upper front teeth, but can also attack teeth in other areas of the mouth. In some extreme cases, your child’s teeth may have decayed so severely they need to be removed. Fortunately, baby bottle tooth decay is preventable.


Decay, in either an adult or child’s mouth, is caused by the sticky bacteria known as plaque. Whenever plaque comes into contact with sugar, it produces an acid that can eat away at a tooth’s enamel for up to 20 minutes. One of the most common ways plaque can get into the mouth of a baby is when a parent places an object in their mouth prior to putting it into the child’s. An example of this occurring is when a parent places a spoon or pacifier in their mouth to clean it prior to using it again. By placing the object in their mouth, the parent transfers any tooth decay causing bacteria from their mouth to their child’s.


Another factor that contributes to tooth decay in babies is the prolonged exposure to liquids that contain high levels of sugar, such as formula or fruit juice. Parents who have the habit of putting their child to bed with a bottle, or who use a bottle as a pacifier, expose their child to frequent attacks from plaque acids. Every time your child drinks from the bottle, the sugar in the liquid causes the plaque to produce acid that damages your child’s teeth. If your child lays down with a bottle each time it naps, it provides plaque with frequent opportunities to attack while your child sleeps.


Preventing Tooth Decay


Here are several steps parents can take that will help prevent their child from developing tooth decay.


  • Resist placing anything in your mouth prior to placing it into your child’s mouth. If your child uses a pacifier, provide them with a clean one that hasn’t been dipped in honey or sugar.
  • Improve your own oral health, so your saliva will contain less tooth decay causing bacteria. Brushing and flossing regularly will help to dramatically reduce the amount of plaque in your mouth that could inadvertently be transferred to your child.
  • After each time you feed your child, gently wipe down their gums with a clean, damp washcloth or gauze pad. Your child isn’t old enough for tooth paste until you can trust they won’t spit or swallow, so use water and a child’s size toothbrush to clean their teeth after they begin to appear.
  • Only place formula or breastmilk into bottles, and avoid filling them with fruit juice or soda. Make sure your child finishes their bottle before bedtime and encourage your child to drink from a glass instead of a sippy cup by their first birthday.
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