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How Can I Prevent Decay Caused by Nursing?

Nobody wants their children to get cavities at an early age. Unfortunately, tooth decay happens earlier than expected. Teething babies, in particular, can be afflicted with “baby bottle tooth decay.” This term refers to tooth decay that occurs in young children and babies. Usually, this type happens when sugars from your child’s bottle feed linger on the teeth for too long. What, then, can you do to prevent decay caused by nursing?

Be careful when you bottle-feed

First, we need to clarify what it is about nursing that promotes tooth decay. Breast-fed babies don’t seem to have as much as a problem with this as bottle-fed children do. Some have concluded that the advent of the baby bottle is what spurred this increase in infant tooth decay.

As opposed to breast-feeding, babies who feed on bottles may sometimes have it in their mouths for long periods, such as during nap time. When this happens, milk or otherwise can pool in the mouth. The child’s teeth then bathe in this liquid, which bacteria can feed off. As we discussed prior, oral bacteria synthesize the residual sugars into acid, which hurts the tooth enamel. 

With breast-feeding, on the other hand, a baby must actively suck to get to the milk. This act of sucking makes the milk pass behind the teeth. It then goes straight down the throat via swallowing. Aside from this, breast milk is also said to contain compounds which can destroy decay-causing germs. This addition could explain why some researchers have found a lack of tooth decay in the teeth of prehistoric humans. 

Should we forego the bottle altogether then? Not necessarily. On the contrary, knowing the risks of bottle-feeding can help parents adjust their nursing routine accordingly. Some adjustments may include:

  • Monitoring what goes into their bottle. As much as possible, parents should avoid giving their babies and toddlers sweet drinks if they bottle-feed. Repetitive exposure to these sugars makes them more susceptible to tooth decay, even if you clean their teeth afterward. 
  • Not letting their child go to bed with the bottle. Keeping the bottle in their mouths overnight leads to a higher incidence of tooth decay, as your child’s teeth bathe in the liquid for an extended period. If they do find comfort in keeping the bottle in their mouths, opt instead for a bottle of water.
  • Breast-feed as much as possible. While this option isn’t open to all mothers, those who can breast-feed should make the most of it.  

 Clean their mouths right after a feeding

Coupled with preventive measures, cleaning your child’s mouth is a surefire way to prevent early tooth decay. Particularly after every feed. Even if your child has not yet grown their milk teeth, cleaning the gums after feeding can limit the damage decay-causing bacteria could make and keep your child’s future teeth healthier for longer. 

 For children who have not yet grown their teeth, a good wipe with a soft cloth and water should be enough to clean their gums. After a while, you can upgrade their routine with a small, soft-bristled brush and a smear of low-fluoride toothpaste. While they’re still young, they don’t have to rinse their mouths after every cleaning; but make sure they spit out the toothpaste after to prevent fluorosis. 

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