According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry tooth decay is the single most common chronic childhood disease. And, tooth decay is on the increase in young infants. So why, despite better health care, is infant tooth decay such a problem and what can be done to prevent it?
Although the incidence of cavities has gone down in the United States overall, it has gone up by 15.2 percent in children aged 2 to 5 since 1988, according to a 2005 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The reason for this rise in caries (tooth decay) is simple: more and more, children are being exposed to sugary liquids such as milk, breast milk, formula, fruit juice and other sweet liquids for a long period of time.
The problem often occurs because parents give their children bottles to put them to sleep. It's all too easy to help your child off to sleep by leaving them to suck on a bottle of formula milk or some other sugary liquid. But once the child is asleep, they stop feeding. Instead the liquid stays in their mouth, coating gums and teeth with a warm sugary substance that is the ideal breeding ground for bacteria. This phenomenon is often called ‘baby bottle tooth decay’.
Children won't take responsibility for oral hygiene; it's up to parents.
So, what can parents do to help their child avoid baby bottle tooth decay?
First off, monitor drinking habits: Drinking juice from a bottle or sippy cup should be avoided to minimize prolonged sugar exposure. Instead, use a glass or cup to shorten consumption time. Most children readily wean themselves off bottles; they are keen to learn new things, especially when they see others around them doing it. Kids should be weaned off bottles at 12 to 14 months of age.
Secondly, and most importantly, don't put your child to sleep with a bottle of formula milk or some other sweet liquid. Instead, put your child to bed with a bottle of water. Water inside city limits often contains fluoride, which has been shown to help prevent tooth decay and makes teeth strong. However, residents who live in rural areas rely on well water, which doesn't contain fluoride. You should try to wean your child off night feeds; this isn't always easy but gently perseverance will win the day.
Thirdly, it is never too early to start brushing your child's teeth. Infant toothbrushes are readily. You should only use water and never use fluoridated toothpaste until age 2 or 3 unless your dentist says otherwise. Have your child brush after every meal or snack and floss daily.
Bottle tooth decay is not a heredity disease and is totally preventable. But remember, your child isn't going to take responsibility for their dental health, that's your job. Sending your child off to sleep whilst sucking on a bottle of formula may seem to be the easy option, but in the long run, you're just heading for more problems.
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