Milk bottle caries—or baby bottle tooth decay—is tooth decay that occurs in infants and young children. Milk bottle caries typically affect children between 1-2 years old. Although other teeth can be affected, the upper front teeth are the most commonly affected because they come into closest contact with the juices and milk that cause caries.

What causes milk bottle caries?

Baby bottle tooth decay typically occurs when a baby is frequently put to bed while still sucking on a bottle containing juice or formula. Infants who fall asleep during breastfeeding can also be affected by milk bottle caries. When children walk around or sleep with a bottle in their mouth, their teeth are put into direct contact with the sugars in the liquid for long periods of time. Bacteria present in the mouth thrive on sugar, causing acids to attack tooth enamel and resulting in tooth decay.

How can it be prevented?

Follow these simply steps to keep your infant’s teeth healthy and prevent milk bottle caries:

  • Only put your infant to bed with a bottle containing water. No juice or milk at bedtime.
  • Take away the bottle or stop nursing when your child has fallen asleep.
  • Never let your child use a bottle of milk or juice as a pacifier.
  • Attempt to wean your child from a bottle by 12-14 months.
  • Take good care of your child’s teeth and gums by regularly brushing (especially at bedtime) and visiting a pediatric dentist.
  • Consider fluoride treatments as recommended by your child’s doctor or dentist.

Takeaways

  • Children 1-2 years old are the most susceptible to milk bottle caries.
  • Milk bottle caries usually affect the upper front teeth, although other teeth can also become decayed.
  • Baby bottle tooth decay is caused by prolonged exposure to sugar, resulting in acids attacking tooth enamel and causing decay.
  • Prevention strategies include not putting your baby to bed with a bottle, weaning your child from a bottle early and caring for your child’s teeth and gums by gently brushing at bedtime.

References

  1. American Dental Association. Baby Bottle Tooth Decay.
  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Nursing Caries.
  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Tooth Decay – Early Childhood.

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