Get exclusive member benefits & effect social change. Join Today
Baby bottle tooth decay is the term that describes tooth decay in infants and young children. It may also be called:
Baby bottle tooth decay usually occurs on the front teeth, or ‘incisors’. Cavities, or "caries," are caused by too much sugar on the teeth. The sugar is found in milk or formula, as well as other artificially sweetened juice and snacks.
As a parent, you hold the keys needed to help prevent infant caries. Proper dental hygiene and cleanings are essential. Learn how to keep your baby’s teeth clean and free of cavities in their early years, as well as how to teach self-care techniques as your child grows older.
Bottle tooth decay develops when baby teeth come into frequent contact with too much sugar. Bacteria in the mouth feed on the sugar, multiply, and produce acid as a waste product. The acid attacks the teeth and tooth enamel, resulting in tooth decay.
Sugar is found in:
When an infant falls asleep with a bottle, or uses a bottle or sippy cup for extended periods of time, the sugar can coat the teeth. This causes the teeth to decay more quickly in such children.
The caries caused by decay can occur in any of the teeth. However, they most often occur on the upper front teeth (called ‘upper incisors’). Caries can appear as dark or brown spots on the teeth. As the decay worsens, children might experience pain and swelling around the teeth.
Infant caries can be a serious problem. A child needs their teeth to chew, speak, and smile. Baby teeth also hold the space for adult teeth. Pain and infection will likely result if a tooth is lost too early or if tooth decay is left untreated.
In addition, if the baby teeth don’t develop properly, your baby may develop poor eating habits or have speech problems. Adult teeth may grow in crookedly or cause crowding.
Widespread or severe tooth decay can cause further complications, including:
It’s possible to prevent infant caries by being conscious of your child’s bottle-feeding habits and properly cleaning your child’s teeth.
Refrain from sharing utensils and other items that come in contact with your child’s teeth to avoid passing your saliva to your baby’s mouth. Such habits can promote bacterial transmission.
Oral health habits are first started at home. As your infant grows, it’s time to consider other preventive measures with the help of a pediatric dentist. Your child’s first dentist’s visit should occur within six months after the first tooth appears. In fact, the ADA recommends that children should see a dentist before their first birthday.
A pediatric dentist can detect potential problems with your child’s teeth, including caries. This is why regular appointments are a must. Always call your child’s dentist if you have any specific concerns.
Written by: Jacquelyn Cafasso and Kristeen Cherney
Medically reviewed on: Aug 24, 2015: Steven Kim, MD
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.