Early Childhood Caries

A little education can go a long way in preventing early childhood caries which used to be called baby bottle tooth decay. It is a condition in which an infant’s teeth experience excessive decay. Many people do not know that all liquids fed to infants ~ formula, breast milk, cow’s milk, and juice ~ contain sugars. All sugars, both natural and artificial, are potential “food” for the bacteria that live in the mouth. As the bacteria feed on sugar, they produce acid, which wears away tooth enamel and opens up the door for tooth decay.

If the situation is not addressed, babies that suffer from early childhood caries can experience pain and infection from decaying teeth and may require extensive dental treatme

Babies that are persistently fed “on demand” or that are put to sleep with milk or sweetened liquids are particularly at risk for early childhood caries because the teeth have constant exposure to the sugary liquids. Oftentimes, some liquid remains in the mouth once the baby falls asleep and bathes teeth in sugar all night long. When your child is sleeping through the night without requiring night time feeding, they may still, occasionally, wake from sleep, perhaps even crying or fussing. It is best to give your child a sip of water, then comfort and sooth them back to sleep with a gentle, caring touch. Children who walk around constantly drinking milk, juice or other sweetened liquids from a sippy cup are also at risk for early childhood caries due to prolonged sugar exposure. We recommend white milk with meals and water between meals.

To reduce the risk of early childhood caries, promote the following:

  • Gently wipe your baby’s gums with a wet soft cloth or gauze even before teeth erupt. (This method may continue as the first teeth erupt and graduate to a soft toothbrush)
  • Your baby’s gums and teeth should be cleaned after the last feeding and before going to bed.
  • Try to end feeding at least 15 minutes prior to bedtime to reduce chance of liquids remaining in your baby’s mouth and bathing teeth in sugar during sleep.
  • Do not allow milk or sweetened liquids in bed with your child; allow water only.
  • Do not introduce juice into your child’s regular diet.
  • Wean your baby from the bottle to a cup between 12 and 15 months of age.
  • Encourage your child to drink water between meals as opposed to milk, juice, or other sweetened liquids.
  • It is best to visit a pediatric dentist around 12 months of age and every six months after that.