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Indiana State Department of Health

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

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What is Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay (BBTD) is a devastating form of tooth decay that can rapidly destroy a child's four upper front teeth and lower back teeth by the age of three. BBTD develops when the child's bottle containing milk, juice or sugar-containing liquids is left in the child's mouth for prolonged periods of time.

A child developing BBTD will experience pain. Treatment is expensive and requires a hospital visit. If teeth need to be extracted, early loss of baby teeth might mean:

  • Delays in speech development
  • Difficulty maintaining proper nutrition
  • Crowding of permanent teeth
  • Developmental defects in permanent teeth if infection is present

How can you prevent Baby Bottle Tooth Decay?

START EARLY with good feeding habits. The bottle should only be used at mealtimes, not as a pacifier during the day or night.

When feeding, never leave a bottle propped in the child's mouth. Instead, cradle the child and support the bottle with your hand. Do not bottle feed your child soft drinks, fruit juices, gelatin waters or other sweetened drinks.

After feedings, clean the child's gums and teeth with water and a clean, soft cloth until age one and a half to two when several teeth are in place and a small, soft toothbrush can be used. You should help your child develop good oral care habits by assisting them with teeth cleaning until manual dexterity and social maturity develop, enabling a child to properly perform dental care.

If your baby is currently taking a bottle during naps or at night, you should stop this habit immediately, provided the child is well and caregivers are prepared for two to three nights of crying which will end once the child adjusts to the new regimen.

You can immediately quit giving your child a bottle at night or during naps or you can gradually wean them from this habit by diluting the contents of the bottle with water.

Helpful tips for stopping nap and night-time bottle feedings are:

  • Dilute bottle contents with 1/3 water the first night, 1/2 water the second night and all water by the third night
  • Rub your baby's back when you put your child to bed
  • Sing to your baby or turn on a music box
  • Make sure your baby is receiving most of his/her liquid nourishment from a cup by 12 months of age.