Baby Bottle Syndrome and Children’s Oral Health

Tom & Katrien / / CC BY-SA

By: Lauren Hapeman

The age that children receive their first set of teeth often coincides with a period of time where bottles are provided, often before they are put to bed. Baby bottle syndrome is a dental abnormality that affects children when they are bottle fed milk or fruit juice prior to going to sleep. This condition can be viewed clinically as rampant tooth decay, and is most common on the anterior or front teeth where bottles and the liquids that they contain come in frequent contact with the tooth surfaces. This article will explain baby bottle syndrome in depth and also identify healthy alternatives that will prevent tooth decay. The first set of teeth remains in the oral cavity for the first twelve years of life, and it is important for them to be fully functional and free of decay. Your pediatric or general dentist can work with you to ensure that baby bottle syndrome is prevented throughout your child’s first years of life.

What Causes Baby Bottle Syndrome?
Milk, fruit juices, and other beverages that contain sugar, are the most common causes of “baby bottle syndrome.” This is because each of these beverages has a high sugar content (milk, although nutritious, contains lactose or milk sugar which can be broken down by saliva into simple table sugar). When sugar is left in the oral cavity overnight, the pH of the mouth becomes acidic, and the result is a demineralized, or weakened, tooth surface. This is because bacteria that reside naturally in the oral cavity use sugar for energy, and following their ingestion of simple sugar, they secret acids as a by-product.

The ingestion of sugar, acid secretion, and a low pH in the mouth, are responsible for causing cavitations to develop over time on the enamel, or outer surface of the teeth. The result of repeated milk or juice intake before bed is a condition called “rampant caries,” or numerous dental cavities on all surfaces of multiple teeth. This can be extremely painful for children who need their first set of teeth to eat and speak until they are adolescent. Prevention of baby bottle syndrome is essential, as, without the placement of many crowns on the primary teeth, it is difficult to restore teeth with rampant caries to health.

Prevention of Baby Bottle Syndrome
To prevent your child from developing dental caries or cavities, milk and juice should be given during the day in conjunction with healthy, fibrous snacks (adding food will help to keep the pH within the oral cavity at a neutral level). Before bed, if milk is provided, children’s teeth should be brushed for a minimum of two minutes, even if all of their primary teeth have not yet erupted. During the night, water can be an alternative to milk, and will keep your child hydrated without presenting a risk of tooth decay.

It is important to acclimate your child to the dentist following the eruption of their first tooth (the first tooth to erupt is the mandibular, or bottom, central incisor). This will eliminate their fear of going to the dentist at an early age and will provide you with information regarding how to prevent tooth decay, which teeth should erupt at each age, and ways to ensure that your child has a healthy, functional set of teeth.

For more information on baby bottle syndrome, or to schedule an appointment for your child, contact Dr. Postol at his St. Louis area dental office today.

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