Baby bottle tooth decay (BBTD) is caused by prolonged contact with sugar in liquid. Milk, formula, juice, Kool-Aid, and soft drinks all contain sugar. If your child falls asleep with a bottle in his or her mouth or constantly drinks from a bottle during the day, the sugar coats the upper teeth. The normal bacteria in the mouth change the sugar to an acid. Because the enamel of baby teeth is only half the thickness of an eggshell, the acid gradually dissolves the enamel and allows decay to occur in the underlying tooth structure.
The availability of plastic bottles instead of glass bottles has led many parents to be less concerned about giving their infant a bottle. A bottle of formula or juice is a quick way to help a child go to sleep at night or to deal with middle-of-the-night crying. It also becomes a handy way to deal with fussiness during the daytime. Many parents are unaware of the side effects of allowing a child to sip from a bottle.
If BBTD is not detected and treated, decay will eventually destroy the teeth and they will break off at the gumline. The decay will continue to destroy the root of the tooth and cause ongoing pain. Dental repair of BBTD requires general anesthesia. If the problem is detected at an early level, the teeth can be covered with stainless steel caps. If the decay is severe, the teeth will need to be pulled out. The child will then have to chew with the teeth on the side of the mouth and may also be teased about the missing teeth in front. The baby teeth are important because they save the appropriate space for the permanent teeth to fill later. If they are lost too early, the permanent teeth may come in crooked or be crowded.
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Instructions for Pediatric Patients, 2nd Edition, ©1999 by WB Saunders Company. Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, pediatrician and author of Your Child’s Health, Bantam Books, a book for parents.