Baby Bottles, Sippy Cups, and Your Child’s Dental Health

avoid baby bottle tooth decay

Little ones sure require a lot of items to keep them content. You name it: bassinets, strollers, blankets, pacifiers, baby bottles, sippy cups… Packing up for a trip can require an extra vehicle at times! And though we laugh it off because we know it is only temporary, parents of young children often don’t think about how those baby necessities can harm their child’s development and oral health. 

What Parents Need to Know About Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

It’s true. Did you know that baby bottles can lead to tooth decay? Pacifiers can harm the proper growth of the mouth and alignment of teeth. And those sippy cups that parents are so excited about when their babies do away with the bottle? Yes, even those can cause problems down the road if you aren’t careful now.

If you are the parent of a young one, you might be sitting back right now wondering how something necessary, such as a baby bottle, can contribute to tooth decay. Baby bottle tooth decay, sometimes referred to as early childhood caries, is tooth decay that occurs in infants. And though those baby teeth are temporary, your little one still needs strong, healthy baby teeth to chew their food properly and learn to speak without an impediment. Thus, preventing baby bottle tooth decay is an important task for parents and their kids’ dentists.

Putting your baby or toddler to bed with a bottle full of anything but water can be harmful to their teeth, as saliva flow lessens during sleep. But what causes baby bottle tooth decay, especially when a baby needs a bottle to receive their milk if their mother does not nurse them? One of the most common causes is prolonged and frequent contact with sugary drinks, including fruit juice, formula, and even milk. The bacteria in their mouth will thrive on the sugar from these beverages, producing acids that in turn attack the teeth.

Preventing Baby Bottle Tooth Decay 

Thankfully, by following a few guidelines, you can help your baby to avoid baby bottle tooth decay. 

  1. After your baby completes a feeding, be sure to wipe their gums with a clean, damp washcloth or gauze pad.
  2. Brush your baby’s new teeth gently with a child-size toothbrush and a small amount of children’s toothpaste.
  3. Once your child turns three, you can use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste to brush their teeth.
  4. Play some fun toothbrushing music for your child to teach them all the appropriate steps.
  5. Supervise your child when brushing their teeth until they are age six or seven and they understand how to spit, not swallow, their toothpaste.
  6. Avoid adding sugary drinks such as sugar water, soft drinks, or fruit juices to their baby bottle. At bedtime, if your child requires a bottle to fall asleep, fill it with water only.
  7. Have your child finish their formula, milk, or breast milk bottles before they go to bed.
  8. Teach your child how to drink from a cup by the time they celebrate their first birthday.
  9. Avoid dipping your child’s pacifier in honey or other sugary beverages.
  10. Encourage healthy eating habits by introducing tooth-friendly foods.
  11. Pay attention to the time of day when your baby drinks fluids. Even drinking milk right before bad can be bad for your little’s teeth as unswallowed milk may sit on your baby’s teeth or gums throughout the night.

The Sippy Cup Conundrum

Parents love sippy cups and little ones do too. Sippy cups give children flexibility and power in controlling how much they drink and when. And little kids love the fun patterns that sippy cups are available in. For parents, sippy cups provide a spillproof and mess-free option for kids that find comfort in toting their drinks around with them. But unfortunately, that’s where the good news comes to an end.

As your child grows, the way they suck and swallow changes. Babies use anterior-posterior tongue movement while breastfeeding or drinking from a bottle. Around their first birthday, babies develop a mature swallow pattern where the tip of their tongue can reach the roof of their mouth, making the motion of a wave to move liquids into their throat. But sippy cups hinder this development as the hard spout blocks your child’s tongue from reaching that spot. Without sufficient practice developing and learning this advanced method of using the tongue to swallow, your child may have trouble chewing and swallowing various foods.

Child-safe Cups that Use a Straw Are a Better Choice

When drinking from a straw, your child will strengthen their lip, tongue, and cheek muscles. As a result, drinking from a straw encourages youngsters to develop that more advanced method of sucking and swallowing. Instead of that “suckling” method of drinking that occurs when using a traditional sippy cup, your little one can practice a mature pattern of swallowing, allowing them to safely drink and eat. And don’t worry mom or dad, there are plenty of straw-compatible sippy cups available on the market. 

Some beverages are better for your child than others.

Like we said, preventing baby bottle tooth decay is an important responsibility for both parents and their kids’ dentist. And an important strategy in avoiding tooth decay for your child is by paying attention to what they drink. As our mouths are full of bacteria that feed on sugars and starches, certain beverages can make your child more likely to develop a toothache or dental decay. 

When they drink sugary beverages, their mouth releases acids that eat away at the dental enamel, and that means an increased risk for cavities. Unfortunately, most things have at least some sugar or starch in them. Therefore, it is recommended that your child brush and floss regularly in addition to consuming limited amounts of these sugary drinks. 

The best drinks for your child’s teeth include the following:

  • Water
  • Milk
  • Unsweetened Milk Alternatives (e.g., Soy Milk, Rice Milk, Oat Milk, Almond Milk, Coconut Milk, etc.)
  • Unsweetened 100% Fruit Juice (in moderation)

What to Do if Your Child Has Developed Tooth Decay

If your child is showing signs of toothache or tooth decay, it is time to pay a visit to your children’s dentist. And even if you are bringing your child to the dentist every six months (be sure to bring your child to the dentist for the first time before they reach their first birthday), a toothache is cause for an incremental visit. 

If you live in or near Boise, Idaho, Staley Dental can help alleviate your child’s toothache and provide guidance on how to avoid baby bottle tooth decay. And if you don’t live near Boise, simply do an online search for a pediatric dentist near me, and you’ll be given several search engine results to guide you in finding a dentist that can help your child. 

Request an appointment with Staley Dental today. Let us show you and your child what a safe, comfortable, and fun dental environment can be!