Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

When a child’s teeth are frequently exposed for prolonged periods of time to liquids containing sugars, it can cause decay. This condition is commonly called Baby Bottle Tooth Decay or Early Childhood Caries. It typically occurs in the front upper teeth, but can effect all of them.


The U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
reports that 28% of U.S. children
ages 2 to 5
have had some tooth decay

Long Term Consequences
Even though they are temporary, baby teeth are important because healthy baby teeth usually result in healthy permanent teeth. Some baby teeth remain into the teenager years – these teeth are still susceptible to cavities.

If left untreated, early childhood tooth decay may result in pain and infection and/or require extractions or root canals. Procedures for extensive damage will need to occur in a hospital under general anesthesia.

Lost teeth can cause poor eating habits, speech problems, or crooked and damaged adult teeth. If baby teeth are removed or lost  too early, other teeth can move into the open space and cause adult teeth to emerge crowded or crooked.

This most commonly occurs when:

  • A child is sent to bed with a bottle filled with sugary liquids
  • A bottle is used as a pacifier
  • Infants have prolonged breastfeeding habits
  • Babies are given pacifiers dipped in honey, sugar, or syrup
  • Mothers clean pacifiers with their own mouth, insert feeding spoons in their own mouths, or allow children to suck on either of their fingers after having been in their mouth

Drinks high in sugar are milk, formula, fruit juice, soda, and other sweetened drinks. While the child sleeps, the flow of saliva decreases, allowing the sugars to linger on teeth. This causes acid to attack the teeth and gums and the process of decay begins.

We’ve Learned A Few Things Through The Years…

Starting Cola Earlier Does Not End In Pure Pleasure…

Many children satisfy their desire to suck by using a bottle as a pacifier. The bottle itself is not entirely harmful – it aids in the development of facial muscles, as well as the tongue. However, it should be phased out once drinking from a cup is achieved, because in addition to tooth decay, it can also lead to open bites.

While breastfeeding is a good and healthy practice, continuous breastfeeding long after it’s crucial for nutrition can still increase the risk of decay.

Bacteria found in the saliva also contributes to cavities, because it thrives on sugar and promotes acids that attack the teeth. This is why putting a baby’s pacifier or feeding spoon into your mouth is something to avoid.

In the early stages, teeth may appear to have small white spots or lines on them around the edges of the gums. Eventually they areas become brown or chipped. This can worsen quite rapidly and cause severe problems.

Decay is entirely preventable with a few simple steps. Starting good oral hygiene at an early age is the key to a lifetime of dental health.

  • Never allow children to fall asleep with a bottle containing the liquids mentioned above
  • Avoid ever filling bottles with sugar water, juice, or soft drinks
  • Clean baby’s gums at least once a day to aid in teething – wrap a moistened gauze square or washcloth around the finger and gently massage gums
  • Begin brushing as soon as first tooth erupts – use a child-size soft toothbrush and a grain of rice size of non-fluoride toothpaste if they are too young to spit (before age three)
  • Brush teeth with pea-sized amount of toothpaste for ages 3 to 6
  • Schedule a child’s first dentist appointment between 6 and 12 months old
  • Floss once all baby teeth have come in
  • Avoid sharing saliva through common feeding spoons or licking pacifiers
  • Provide clean pacifiers – don’t dip them in sugar-laden substances
  • Encourage child to drink from a cup by his/her first birthday
  • Encourage healthy eating habits
  • Ask your dentist about special sealant coatings, which can help prevent tooth decay in children
  • Inquire with your dentist about adequate fluoride supplementation

Before & After Baby Bottle Decay

Dietary Changes
If your child insists on a bottle while sleeping, the only safe liquid to put in it is water. If they are already in the habit, here are a few nutritional changes to break the habit and promote better oral health:

  • Gradually dilute the bottle contents with water over a period of two to three weeks
  • Once gradation is over, fill bottle with water only
  • Reduce sugar consumption, especially as snacks
  • Wean child from bottle as soon as they can drink from a cup

If you notice the signs of baby bottle decay, contact your dentist immediately to avoid further, more problematic damage. For more information or to schedule your child’s first dental check up, please contact Dr. Arhiri at 610-647-7611 or email

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