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Early childhood caries, also known as, “baby bottle tooth decay" is the severe decay of the baby teeth of infants and young children. It is called baby bottle tooth decay, but frequent, long-lasting feedings, especially at night, can cause it, too.
When liquid that contains sugar (such as breast milk and formula) is given at nap time or bedtime, the sugar stays on the teeth. Bacteria (germs) in the mouth turn the sugar in these liquids into acid. The acid eats away at the enamel (the outer coating of the teeth) and tooth decay begins. The enamel of baby teeth is thinner than the enamel of permanent teeth. This makes it easier for the acid to destroy the teeth.
During the day, saliva in the mouth helps wash away some of the sugary liquid from the teeth.This helps a little but you still need to brush or clean the teeth. At nap time or at night the flow of saliva slows down and the baby swallows less often. Bacteria have more time to work on the sugars to produce the acid that causes decay.
The upper front teeth and first molars are damaged first. The lower front teeth are not usually hurt.
It is important to keep baby teeth clean and healthy because baby teeth:
Tooth decay causes:
Even before the teeth begin to come in, clean baby's mouth at least once a day with a clean gauze pad or soft cloth (Picture 2). This should become a regular habit.
1. Depending on your child’s age, use one of these methods to clean the teeth and gums:
-Hold an infant on your lap and support the head with your hand so you can see easily into the mouth
-With the child seated in a high chair, stand behind him and brush the teeth. (Picture 1).
-Sit on a sofa with your child's head in your lap (or, if someone is helping you, place the child's head in your lap with his feet toward your helper).
2. Place a clean gauze pad or soft cloth over your finger. Dip it in water so that it's damp but not soaking wet. Wipe the child's teeth and gums gently.
3. When the child's teeth start coming in, begin to use a small, soft toothbrush to brush his teeth. Be sure to brush all surfaces of the teeth, including the gums.
4. You don’t need to use toothpaste, but if you do, use a small amount of fluoride toothpaste (about the size of a small pea).
5. Children should be able to brush their teeth by themselves by age 11. Until then, parents should watch or help, based on their child’s abilities.
If you have any questions, be sure to ask you dentist or doctor, or call the Dental Clinic at (614) 722-5650.
HH-IV-12 11/84, Revised 7/10 Copyright 1984-2010, Nationwide Children's Hospital