Is Baby Teeth Decay a Big Deal?

Absolutely. Yes. No question about it. It is a big deal. You should incorporate healthy dental hygiene into your child’s morning and night time routines as soon as you see their first pearly white and start fostering those habits early to prevent tooth decay.

Why Is Baby Teeth Decay a Big Deal?

There are several reasons that explain the importance of baby teeth and why baby teeth decay (also referred to as bottle rot) is a big deal:

1. Baby teeth decay causes your baby pain. Tooth decay; whether it be in your teenager’s braces bracketed permanent teeth, in your own back molar, or in your baby/toddler’s baby teeth, is painful. It’s painful because the erosion of the protective enamel of the tooth can create holes in the tooth, and inside the tooth are nerves. If the decay is left untreated too long, abscesses in the tooth can form. Ouch!

2. Baby teeth have a biological clock, and serve several important functions until the permanent teeth come in. Baby teeth serve to help your baby/toddler learn how to chew solid foods! Imagine your two-year-old child being confined to only soft foods because they don’t have the chewing capacity necessary for all the yummy healthy crunchy, chewy foods. They also reserve separate spaces in the jaw until the time the permanent teeth come in. Premature loss of baby teeth can cause issues with jaw and teeth alignment later on.

3. Money. Tooth decay must be treated. Procedures that are performed to treat tooth decay vary by severity of the decay but range from partial fillings, to root canals or even tooth extraction.

Save your child the pain, save the spaces in your child’s jaw, and save your wallet the cost.

Why Is It Sometimes Called Bottle Rot?

The term “Bottle Rot” comes from the decay of your baby or toddler’s teeth from the extended exposure the teeth have to sugary drinks such as milk, formula, and juice in bottles (or sippy cups). The extended exposure happens when you allow your child to toddle around with a bottle drinking a bit here and there as they want throughout the day, or when you put your baby or toddler down for naptime or bedtime and a bottle in the bed with them.

If your child needs a bottle with them to go to sleep, we urge you to fill it only with water. If your child likes to have a bottle or sippy cup with them throughout the day, again, fill it only with water. Try to contain any drinks that aren’t water to be drank all at once, instead of slowly and periodically over the course of the day.

Another source of baby teeth decay can come from dipping pacifiers in honey, or something sugary. Pacifiers should be regularly cleaned and put in the mouth only when absent of any food or drink product.

Symptoms and Signs of Bottle Rot/Baby Teeth Decay

The first signs of baby teeth decay may be difficult for you to detect, unless you are watching for them. If you see little white spots along their gum line, it could be the beginning stages of baby teeth decay. If you determine your little one has pain or tooth sensitivity, those symptoms could also indicate baby teeth decay. More obvious signs of baby teeth decay mean the decay has progressed to a more significant degree and would include brown or black discoloring of the teeth, or bleeding gums. Fever and bad breath are other symptoms of a more significant degree of bottle rot.

How to Prevent Cavities or Baby Teeth Decay

1. Before your baby’s first tooth comes in, get them acquainted with the idea of dental hygiene by gently cleaning their gums after nursing, bottle feedings, and/or meal times. Use a wet soft washcloth to wipe gently with your finger.

2. Once the first tooth breaks through, use a soft baby tooth brush and a tiny bit of fluoride toothpaste to brush. Start the daily habit of brushing two times per day right away! Habits are formed by repetition.

3. Is your water fluoridated? If you don’t know, call your water utility company to ask. If it is not, talk to your pediatric dentist to determine if fluoride treatments or a fluoride varnish are appropriate. If you want more information about why fluoride is important for your child’s dental health, read our blog post “Why is Fluoride Important to My Child’s Dental Health” by following this link.

4. Start pulling away from bottles and sippy cups and teach your toddler to drink from a cup. Bottles and sippy cups allow the drinking liquid to congregate in and around the teeth. Drinking from cups also has the added advantage that they can’t be carried everywhere without spilling and are therefore more likely to be drank quickly and in one sitting.

5. Limit sweet, sticky foods. The sweets and stickies may be fun to eat, but are bad for their teeth. We wrote a blog post all about “Do-Eats and Don’t-Eats for Kids to Promote Healthy Teeth” that you can read by following this link. Healthy eating habits should be started early, but by the same token, it’s never too late to start!

6. Limit or eliminate sugary drinks. As referenced above, sweet and sugary drinks are a major force in baby tooth decay. If you don’t want to eliminate them entirely (or can’t because your little one is drinking formula) limit them to mealtimes and serve only a small amount. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends diluting the juice to half water and serving no more than 4oz per day).

To hear what our pediatric dentist Dr. Jason Horgesheimer has to say about fixing baby teeth, watch our video:

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We say it every time we see you in our offices, and we’ll keep saying it. Prevention is important! Prevention is possible! Daily morning and night habits of brushing teeth and flossing at least once per day, are essential to your child’s dental well-being.