Avoid ‘Baby Bottle Tooth Decay’

Surprising facts about baby’s dental health

baby drinking from bottle

Tooth decay, without teeth? It can happen. That’s because (even though you can’t see them) your baby’s 20 primary teeth are present at birth.

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Todd Coy, DMD, Section Head of Dentistry at Cleveland Clinic, recommends four healthy habits to avoid what he calls “baby bottle tooth decay”:

1. Wipe off baby’s gums

While a baby’s four front teeth won’t push through the gums until about 6 months of age, it’s important to begin cleaning her mouth during the first couple days following birth. You can do this by wiping your baby’s gums with a clean washcloth.

“Tooth decay can begin as soon as teeth appear,” Dr. Coy says. “Wiping the gums after each feeding ensures that plaque doesn’t have the chance to build up.”

2. Brush using the right toothpaste

Once teeth become visible, it’s safe to begin using a child-size toothbrush with water in place of the washcloth.

Begin by using toothpaste that is formulated for babies and then switch to one with fluoride after a child turns 2, or is at an age where she can understand that it is not safe to swallow it, Dr. Coy says.

3. Resist decay with fluoride

Daily use of fluoride from certain foods, water and dental hygiene products prevents the formation of acids on the surface of teeth that result from plaque, bacteria and sugars. It’s often an active ingredient in toothpaste and mouthwash because it makes tooth enamel resistant to decay. Early exposure to fluoride for infants and children age 6 months to 16 years is especially important.

“It’s between these ages that primary and permanent teeth come in,” Dr. Coy says. “Fluoride doesn’t just fight tooth decay; it’s responsible for strengthening developing teeth,” he adds.

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4. Practice safe pacifier use

It’s natural for your child to suck on her thumb or a pacifier, but make sure you keep it sugar-free. While covering a pacifier with sugar or honey may keep a crying toddler quiet and happy for a few minutes, it can cause tooth decay.

“Removing sugar from the equation from the beginning of pacifier use is the best way to avoid tooth decay,” Dr. Coy says. “Continuous exposure to sugar when a child is teething will only result in a more painful experience – cavities.”

And moms, you may want to think twice before cleaning off your baby’s pacifier with your own saliva.

“Sugar and bacteria from your saliva could cause decay on your baby’s teeth,” Dr. Coy says. “It’s best to wash a pacifier with soap and water” before putting it back into baby’s mouth.

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