7 Ways to Prevent Baby Bottle Tooth Decay in Your Child

A child leans his head back while his mom brushes his teeth.

When your baby begins to get their first teeth, it is an exciting milestone! Usually happening at around six months of age, these first teeth begin to help your child chew, speak, and smile. As a responsible parent, you may be wondering what you can do to help your baby or toddler have a healthy grin.

Pediatric patients who see a dentist in Lancaster, PA, like Dr. Kolsun at Hempfield Family Dental Care, have a greater chance of developing healthy permanent teeth. But there are also several things you can do to help prevent tooth decay, beginning before they even show signs of teeth.

Baby bottle tooth decay is the most common, long-term childhood disease, so preventing it is essential.

What Causes Tooth Decay in Children?

Baby bottle tooth decay, also known as early childhood caries, is caused by sugars in liquids. Breastmilk or formula contains sugars and can cause decay when given at bedtime or naptime. The sugars stay on the primary or “baby teeth” while your child is sleeping. Bacteria in the mouth turn the sugars into acid, which eats away at the enamel. Enamel on primary teeth is thinner than adult teeth, so tooth decay happens quicker in children.

During the day, saliva typically washes away these sugars on the teeth, so there is less of a risk of it turning into acid. However, saliva production and swallowing slow down during sleep, so sugars tend to stay on the child’s teeth and gums, leading to decay.

So how can you avoid early childhood caries and give your baby a healthy smile? Keep reading for seven tips!

1. Visit a Children’s Dentist

At Hempfield Family Dental Care, we like to start your child’s pediatric dental care beginning at age three, when they can cooperate with the care team at the dental practice. The dentist can evaluate your child’s teeth, recommend tooth decay prevention techniques, and give those pearly whites a good cleaning. Before age three, you are encouraged to bring your baby to your dental appointments so that they can get comfortable with the office setting, noises and dental team in their personal protective equipment.

We will refer children to a pediatric dentist if they are under the age of three or have behavioral issues which require sedation or medication to perform the necessary dental work.  Keep in mind, a pediatric specialist will only see patients aged zero to 18.  In contrast, a child-friendly family dentist, like Dr. Kolsun, sees adults who bring their children to appointments to get used to the dental experience. When it is time for the child’s appointment, this familiarity can help prevent dental phobia.

2. Avoid Bottles in Bed

Another way you can help improve your child’s dental health is by not allowing your baby to have a bottle in bed. Since the sugar in breastmilk and formula can leave sugar on their teeth that does not get removed by saliva during sleep, having your baby feed in bed creates an environment that encourages tooth decay.

Tooth decay is not only unsightly in children but can also lead to pain and infection. Babies should finish their bottles before going to bed to help prevent this unfortunate disease.

3. Encourage Drinking from a Training Cup

By age one, you should be encouraging your child to use a training cup. These cups aim to help children go from sucking to sipping liquids. Weaning your baby from a bottle at an early age lessens their chance of tooth decay.

Be sure to choose a cup that requires your baby to sip and avoid the ones with a valve that makes them spill-proof, which requires children to suckle it.

4. Do Not “Clean” Pacifiers in Your Mouth

If you are one of those parents who “clean” their baby’s pacifiers after they drop on the floor by sticking them in your mouth—or you eat from your baby’s spoon first to make sure the food is not too hot—you could be unknowingly causing tooth decay. When you place a baby’s item in your mouth, the bacteria and germs transfer onto their pacifier or spoon and into their mouth.

5. Wipe Gums After Feedings

After feedings, wipe baby’s gums with a clean, damp gauze pad or baby washcloth around your finger. This practice helps wipe away any remaining sugars left on their gums and gets them ready to have their teeth brushed once the teeth start coming through the gums. 

6. Practice Good Brushing Habits

Once infants begin getting a tooth, it is essential to start brushing twice a day. Use an infant’s toothbrush with a grain-of-rice amount of toothpaste containing fluoride.

Once a child is three years old, use a child’s toothbrush with a pea-sized amount of toothpaste containing fluoride twice a day on their teeth. Parents should perform teeth brushing until the child is six or seven and can avoid swallowing the toothpaste.

7. Avoid Sugary Liquids

Do not give your toddler sugary liquids, like milk, juice, soft drinks, or sweetened tea all day. Instead, save these beverages for mealtimes, and fill the cups with water between meals and before bed. Also, do not dip a pacifier in sugar or honey to calm a child, as this excess sugar can lead to painful tooth decay.

Check Out Hempfield Family Dental Care for Your Child’s Dental Health!

Are you looking for a dentist who enjoys teaching and treating children in Lancaster, PA? Dr. Kolsun at Hempfield Family Dental Care has years of experience working with children who love learning about the Magic Squirt Gun and Mr. Thirsty (suction). Our dental practice uses a customized approach to treatment for each age, making kids as comfortable as possible.

Preventative care for your infant’s or children’s oral health begins with taking the necessary steps, like regular dental checkups, to avoid baby bottle tooth decay. Schedule an appointment today with Dr. Kolsun and give your child the best chance to have a healthy, bright smile!

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