Help your child prevent tooth decay

Baby bottle tooth decay is the extensive breakdown of a child’s baby teeth. Even though the baby teeth are temporary, it is important to take care of them or there can be problems in the future affecting both primary (or baby) teeth as well as permanent teeth. A child’s set of primary teeth are the guides for permanent teeth and they need to be protected from tooth decay.

Baby bottle tooth decay is most often found in the upper front teeth; however, all of a child’s teeth can be affected. These cavities can result in pain, swelling, speech problems, poor nutrition intake, decreased self-esteem, and spacing issues. If a child often has exposure to drinks that contain sugar, baby bottle tooth decay may be a result. For this reason, it is not recommended that a child be put to bed with a bottle.

Another way of developing baby bottle tooth decay is by passing saliva from a caregiver to a child. The bacteria in the saliva can cause cavities. As a result, it is also recommended that the caregivers do not put a spoon or any other utensil in their mouth and then pass it to the child’s mouth.

Another way to prevent tooth decay is to only put breast milk, milk or formula in bottles. By putting other sugary drinks into a bottle, the sugar is allowed to sit on the teeth while the child holds the bottle in his or her mouth.

Pacifiers should not be dipped in sugar or honey as those sweet sugars coming into contact with the teeth will cause decay. Honey can also cause food poisoning in young babies, so it should not be given to children under the age of 1. Also, pacifiers should be cleaned or rinsed before giving them to children; adults should not use their own mouth to clean a child’s pacifier.

There are ways to prevent baby bottle tooth decay. It is recommended that an oral hygiene routine is started the first few days after birth by wiping the baby’s gums with a clean gauze pad. This will remove plaque that can cause decay when teeth begin to erupt.

It is important that the child gets enough fluoride. The proper amount of fluoride from infancy through old age helps prevent and control tooth decay. When a child’s teeth come in, the teeth should be brushed gently. It is advised that when a child begins to brush his/her own teeth, adult supervision is necessary to ensure thorough and correct brushing techniques.

Preventing tooth decay will help children while they have primary/baby teeth and it will also provide a foundation for skills to maintain their adult teeth, which they need for a lifetime. The Wisconsin Dental Association advises that a child be seen for a first dental visit when the first tooth erupts or before the child’s first birthday. Dental appointments are just as important as doctor visits. Starting early is the key to good health.

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Laura J. Rammer, DDS, is a Sheboygan County dentist and member of the Sheboygan County Dental Access Committee. Mariah Shaver is an AHEC intern at Sheboygan County Division of Public Health.