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Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

  • Definition

    This is a dental condition that occurs in children between 18 months and 3 years of age as a result of being given a bottle at bedtime, resulting in prolonged exposure of the teeth to milk or juice.

    Caries (tooth decay) are formed because pools of milk or juice in the mouth break down to lactic acid and other decay-causing substances.


    Giving your baby a bedtime bottle can seem like a great idea at the end of a long day, when you are exhausted and baby is having trouble settling down. And when your baby is fussing between feedings during the day, a bottle of juice or formula may be a ready source of comfort. Yet these habits can lead to nursing-bottle mouth, a pattern of tooth decay that occurs in 15 percent of the population.


    This condition occurs when the baby's teeth are exposed frequently and over a long period of time to the sugars present in liquids such as milk, formula, and fruit juice.

    The longer that these sugars sit on the tooth enamel, the more opportunity they have to combine with bacteria in the mouth. These bacteria, in turn, produce acids that attack tooth enamel.

    The upper front teeth are most vulnerable to damage from nursing bottle mouth.


    How can the baby be weaned from a night bottle?

    What should be done when the baby cries for the bottle?

    Should water be substituted?

    Would the baby benefit from fluorides?

    These problems can be avoided by making sure that the baby does not fall asleep with a bottle of milk, formula, or juice in his or her mouth - whether for the night or for a nap. If he or she is not ready to give up his comfort bottle, fill it with plain, unsweetened water, and remove it from his mouth after he has fallen asleep.

    A good preventive strategy to wean a 12- to 18-month old child is to dilute the milk with water. If the baby gets an eight-ounce bottle of milk every night, fill the bottle with seven ounces of milk and one ounce of water on the first night. Each night, add more water and less milk to the bottle until it contains only water.

    Then, give your child a cup of whole milk each morning. The flavor of the whole milk will make the diluted beverage less appealing and, hopefully, convince your child to give up the nighttime bottle.

    The weaning process should take about a week. Aim for a week to ten days. The baby may be reluctant to give up the water-filled bottle, because the sucking motion helps him sleep. Eventually, you may have to take the bottle away from him. Although he may fuss during the night, he will soon adapt.

    One effective way of guarding against cavities is to assure that the baby's diet includes fluoride. Talk to your pediatrician about this.