What is baby bottle tooth decay? (early childhood caries)

Baby bottle tooth decay, now known as early childhood caries is the result of a consistent dietary consumption of sugars. These sugars are present in the food we eat, but are most often found in foods that have a high sugar content such as soda, juice, or milk. Other sources of sugar include candy, syrups, cookies and other baked goods.

How does it occur?

It can occur when your child’s teeth are exposed to foods with high sugar content. The bacteria that are already in our mouths consume this sugar and convert them into acids that attack the teeth. This process takes about 20 minutes to occur and can rapidly lead to the formation of a cavity. It’s important to note that each time our teeth are exposed to sugar, that 20 minute clock starts over again. In other words, each time your child takes a sip of juice or milk, they prolong their exposure to the acid that attacks the teeth.

What can parents do to help their children avoid early childhood caries?

Being a parent is very stressful and we sometimes find ourselves using candy, soda or other sweets, as a motivator for good behavior. In reality, we are only setting our children up to adopt unhealthy habits. We can limit our child’s risk of early childhood caries by:

  • limiting their exposure to high sugar foods
  • allow juice or milk only during mealtimes
  • For infants, they should finish nursing or bottle feeding before falling asleep (especially after their first tooth comes in)
  • Avoid putting your infant or toddler to bed with a bottle containing sugary drink such as
  • milk, soda, juice, etc.
  • Begin a practice of brushing your child’s teeth as soon as their first tooth comes in
  • Talk to your dentist about scheduling your child’s first dental visit