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What is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay, and Can I Prevent it?

Posted on April 27th, 2023

Johnstown dentist, Dr. Walsh at Johnstown Dental Care, shares some of the insights on how to identify and prevent tooth decay caused from baby bottles.You may have heard the term baby bottle tooth decay, or perhaps one synonym: Early childhood caries (ECC), or baby bottle syndrome. All these terms refer to tooth decay in young children. Often decay occurs in young children because of their propensity to fall asleep with a bottle full of formula, breast milk, or juice — which puts the child at higher risk for tooth decay. According to researchers, the definition of baby bottle tooth decay is: 

Baby bottle syndrome, now known as early childhood caries (ECC), is defined as the presence of 1 or more decayed teeth or missing teeth (resulting from dental caries) or filled tooth surfaces in any primary tooth between birth and 71 months of age.

Because of the prevalence of ECC the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry calls it an international public hazard. Young children who suffer from decay miss more school, have trouble chewing their food, and developing correct speech patterns. It is important for parents to understand the risk factors of ECC so they can prevent it in their children. 

What are the Risk Factors?

Scientists are still learning about the intricacies of tooth decay, but there is consensus on some behaviors, lifestyle habits, family traits, and dietary choices that put a child at higher risk for decay. We will abbreviate risk factors outlined by Sujata Tungare and Arati G. Paranjpe (2019) below.

  1. Bad bacteria in the mouth. There are certain bacteria that if a child has them, puts them at higher risk for decay. Streptococcus mutans and Lactobacilli are two common bacteria found in children with ECC.
  2. Transmission of bad bacteria from caregiver to child by sharing of food and utensils.
  3. Prolonged periods of fermentable carbohydrates being available to the bacteria. This can happen when a child falls asleep with a bottle in the mouth or breastfeed frequently, especially after 12 months of age. 
  4. A sugary diet. Cavity causing bacteria thrive on sugars.
  5. Preterm birth, low birth weight, maternal smoking or drug use. Any developmental issues during pregnancy can cause poorly formed teeth and thinner enamel in children; making them more susceptible to cavities.  
  6. Systemic disease and medication use. Children that struggle with their oral health because of limited capabilities are at increased risk. Also, children who require medications that cause dry mouth, undergo chemotherapy, or radiation are at higher risk. 
  7. Socioeconomic status can put a child at higher risk. Children may have less access to regular dental care.

What Can You Do? 

Many of these risk factors parents cannot control, however, for the risk factors that can be controlled or modified, we encourage parents to make small changes. Start with making sure your child isn’t going to bed with a bottle. Monitor your child’s diet, especially if they are making choices on their own or someone else feeds your child. Encourage your child to drink water instead of juice or soda. Teach your child good oral health habits and take them in for their first dental appointment before their first birthday. 

Cavities are a bummer, especially for young children, but we are here to help! Make an appointment with Johnstown Dental Care today and start your child’s oral heath off right.

The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

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