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Pediatric Dental Month: The Issue of Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Donna Jalai

Project Smile Global

February 12, 2024

During Pediatric Dental Month this February, it is an optimal time to shine light on oral care practices important for infants and children, especially in terms of teaching and practicing effective preventative care methods to take care of children’s teeth. Advocating for optimal dental hygiene habits and practices sets children up for a lifetime of healthy teeth. Dental care is important for people of all ages, but not many people consider the importance of proper dental care in children as young as infants. One such issue is known as “baby bottle tooth decay.” It is a form of caries, which are better known as cavities. In particular, baby bottle tooth decay affects the upper and lower incisors and molars (Tungare and Paranjpe). As the name suggests, it often occurs from excessive use of baby bottles, primarily when babies are sleeping. It is a common issue within the United States, particularly amongst babies in socially disadvantaged populations (Gomez 191). For this reason, raising awareness about this issue and how to prevent it can help many parents and young children navigate a pathway towards a healthy smile.

To truly understand how to prevent baby bottle tooth decay, or nursing caries, we must first understand the science and epidemiology behind why this particular case of tooth decay occurs. The most common cases of baby bottle tooth decay arise from the colonization of Streptococcus mutans. This bacteria feeds on the carbohydrates, or sugars, left on teeth, primarily from formulas, milks, and juices in baby bottles. By metabolizing these carbohydrates, they produce lactic acid. A basic understanding of science and pH infers that this lactic acid lowers the overall pH of the mouth, thus causing erosion and demineralization of the tooth enamel. This tooth enamel demineralization weakens the teeth, leading to cavitation (Tungare and Paranjpe).

Now that we understand why baby bottle tooth decay occurs, it is important to discuss the preventive measures that can be taken. Since the issue stems from bacteria feeding on the carbohydrate residues on our teeth, it is important to keep the teeth clean to avoid this film of sugar residue. This can be done with proper brushing habits and dental care, and, most importantly, not utilizing a baby bottle as a sleeping aid or a constant oral fixation method for babies. This issue is most prevalent in lower-income and disadvantaged families that do not have proper access to dental care services. Without proper dental care or education, many parents do not understand the risk that baby bottles can pose to their children's oral health (Gomez 192). Furthermore, oftentimes the diagnosis features a common pattern amongst the children’s bottle habits. According to a study from a hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, children with baby bottle tooth decay were those that predominantly drank milk and practiced bottle feeding regularly (Mochamad et. al 45).

In terms of treatment for baby bottle tooth decay, the process is similar to most cavities. Most include adding fillings and bonding, but severe cases can even result in the addition of crowns as a treatment. For most cases, however, varnish topical fluoride with resin is the treatment, especially for younger children, since it is a simpler process that does not cause much harm or pain to the tooth or mouth afterwards (Tungare and Paranjpe).

Overall, baby bottle tooth decay is a common issue that affects many children all throughout the world. The tooth decay forms from excess bacterial growth on the teeth from the accumulation of sugar residues left from the milk and juices in baby bottles, especially when teething or with overnight use. Understanding the risk factors of this condition can help parents and children easily avoid the situation. Making sure to brush and clean the teeth properly is imperative to prevent tooth decay, and the procedures are similar to those used to prevent cavities from forming. The excessive use of baby bottles, particularly the sucking motion, also causes problems in the development of baby teeth, specifically the incisors and molars. Seeing a dentist periodically can help combat this issue and ensure proper and professional cleaning of the teeth. This issue, highlighted during Pediatric Dental Month, can negatively affect children’s oral health for years to come, illustrating the need to raise awareness and educate parents on how to care for their young children’s teeth, setting them up for a childhood of healthy and happy smiles.

Works Cited 

Gomez, Grace Felix. “Early Childhood Dental Caries: A Rising Dental Public Health Crisis.”

Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, vol. 14, no. 2, 2013, pp. 191–94,       

Rizal, Mochamad Fahlevi, et al. “The Frequency of Bottle Feeding as the Main Factor of Baby           

Bottle Tooth Decay Syndrome.” Dental Journal, vol. 43, no. 1, 2010, pp. 44–48,          

Tungare, Sujata, and Arati G. Paranjpe. “Early Childhood Caries.” StatPearls [Internet]., U.S.

National Library of Medicine, 8 Aug. 2023,

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