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Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Maintaining the health of primary (baby) teeth is exceptionally important.  Although baby teeth will eventually be replaced, they fulfill several crucial functions in the meantime.

Baby teeth aid enunciation and speech production, help a child chew food correctly, maintain space for adult teeth, and prevent the tongue from posturing abnormally in the mouth.  When baby teeth are lost prematurely, adjacent teeth shift to fill the gap, causing impacted adult teeth and the potential need for orthodontic treatment.  This phenomenon can lead to impacted adult teeth, years of orthodontic treatment, and a poor aesthetic result.

Babies are at risk for tooth decay as soon as the first primary tooth emerges – usually around the age of six months.  

What is baby bottle tooth decay?

The term “baby bottle tooth decay” refers to early childhood caries (cavities), which occur in infants and toddlers.  Baby bottle tooth decay may affect any or all of the teeth, but is most prevalent in the front teeth on the upper jaw.

If baby bottle tooth decay becomes too severe, the affected tooth may be unable to be saved.  In such cases, the damaged tooth is removed, and a space maintainer is provided to prevent misalignment of the remaining teeth.

Scheduling regular dental health visits and implementing a good homecare routine can completely prevent baby bottle tooth decay.


How does baby bottle tooth decay start?

Acid-producing bacteria in the oral cavity cause tooth decay.  Initially, these bacteria may be transmitted from mother or father to baby through saliva.  Every time parents share a spoon with the baby or attempt to clean a pacifier with their mouths, the parental bacteria invade the baby’s mouth.

The most prominent cause of baby bottle tooth decay however, is frequent exposure to sweetened liquids.  These liquids include breast milk, baby formula, juice, and sweetened water – almost any fluid a parent might fill a baby bottle with.

When sweetened liquids are used as a naptime or bedtime drink, they are a heightened risk because they remain in the mouth for an extended period of time.  Oral bacteria feed on the sugar around teeth and emit harmful acids.  These acids wear away tooth enamel, resulting in painful cavities and pediatric tooth decay.

Infants who are not receiving an appropriate amount of fluoride are at increased risk for tooth decay.  Fluoride works to protect tooth enamel. 

What can I do at home to prevent baby bottle tooth decay?

Baby bottle tooth decay can be prevented.  Making regular dental health appointments and following the guidelines below will keep each child’s smile bright, beautiful, and free of decay:

  • Try not to transmit bacteria to your child via saliva exchange.  Rinse pacifiers and toys in clean water, and use a clean spoon for each person eating.
  • Clean gums after every feeding with a clean washcloth.
  • Use an appropriate toothbrush along with an ADA-approved toothpaste to brush when teeth begin to emerge.  Fluoride-free toothpaste is recommended for children under the age of two.
  • Use a pea-sized amount of ADA-approved fluoridated toothpaste when the child has mastered the art of “spitting out” excess toothpaste.  Though fluoride is important for the teeth, too much consumption can result in a condition called fluorosis.
  • Do not place sugary drinks in baby bottles or sippy cups.  Only fill these containers with water, breast milk, or formula.  Encourage the child to use a regular cup (rather than a sippy cup) when the child reaches twelve months old.
  • Do not dip pacifiers in sweet liquids (honey, etc.).
  • Review your child’s eating habits.  Eliminate sugar-filled snacks and encourage a healthy, nutritious diet.
  • Do not allow the child to take a liquid-filled bottle to bed.  If the child insists, fill the bottle with water as opposed to a sugary alternative.
  • Clean your child’s teeth until he or she reaches the age of seven.  Before this time, children are often unable to reach certain places in the mouth.
  • Ask us to review your child’s fluoride levels.

If you have questions or concerns about baby bottle tooth decay, please contact our office.


Read what people are saying about us.

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After many years of being self-conscious about my smile due to an overbite and overlapping teeth, I decided to have a consult about having braces (preferably Invisalign). Due to all the correction needed, wire braces were my only option. After 5 years of various correction procedures I am now proud of my smile. Dr. Jeff and the staff were always prompt and very encouraging during each visit.

~Sandy V.S.

I had an appointment this morning for a crown prep. I was seated a few minutes before my actual appointment time. I was seen immediately by the assistant who prepped me for my local anesthetic. The anesthetic was given gently and painlessly. When I was thoroughly numb the procedure was started and finished in a shorter time than I had thought it might be. I was happy with all the services I received. Everyone from office staff to those assisting and performing the services were courteous and efficient. Dr. Dahm was his usual friendly professional self. I would recommend this dental practice to anyone needing dental care.

~Sue S. (October 2016)

I know, through my own work experience, that working with the public can be trying at times, and sometimes it is difficult not to fall into a "negative" mode, which really does none of us any good. I am not sure whether a "negative" atmosphere shows its face when dealing with people, as much as a "positive" atmosphere does, or not. I am inclined to think not, but anyway, I would like to say that I am proud of everyone in your office, for creating and keeping that "positive" atmosphere, for all of us patients, because it truly does make a difference in the way we feel while we are there, and when we leave the office. I don't ever remember giggling several times during a dentist appointment, but couldn't help myself yesterday morning, as Dr. Dahm moved through the office, greeting, reassuring, and caring for people. The girls who helped me through the x-rays, molds, and other necessary procedures were awesome, as well! "Good Job", "You're doing great", etc., while in a place where most people are a little uncomfortable, at best, is so nice to hear. And, when I was confused about just where in my mouth my filling would go, the girls were so kind in explaining that they really were going to work on the correct tooth. LOL! I am running on here, but I think too often in business, the main feedback that people get, is the negative stuff. I have always tried to counter that, by letting people know when I really do appreciate what they have done "for" me, instead of "to" me, and I will be the first to admit that trust does not always come easy for me - just the way I am. And, I feel that an establishment's "true colors" show in instances like I had yesterday, when I needed some reassurance that everything was okay. I am so appreciative of the way everyone handled that (sorry that I took up precious time), but now I know, that if/when I truly do need help, it will be there, and given in a kind and understanding manner. That means a LOT to me! So, in closing, in the middle of the night, during my usual "awake" time, I just kept thinking WOW! I just don't know of a better way to express my feelings! And, of course, THANK YOU to everyone in that office, because it takes every person in an environment like that to maintain a caring and positive atmosphere! I notice and I appreciate all of it, and I would recommend anyone I know to become a patient there!

Pam B.

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