There’s probably no more tragic situation than tooth decay in baby teeth. The problem is that many parents don’t think they need to take their child to the dentist when he or she is a baby. Parents of children with baby teeth dental caries often think that their kids’ teeth may just be discolored. But the reality is that their tiny little teeth are soft and brown with cavities, or what dentists call, “dental caries.” Children I see with baby bottle decay often can’t stop crying because they have painful infections around their teeth.
Baby bottle decay affects infants and toddlers under three years old. By the time the child is four or five years old, the decayed teeth often have to be removed at the hospital, under GA. Baby teeth bottle decay can make it hard for young kids to eat, sleep and drink because of tooth pain. It can cause problems with speech, growth of the mouth, and crooked teeth. It is heartbreaking because a child can suffer the effects of baby bottle decay for life.
There are solutions to baby teeth bottle decay that can improve your kid’s dental health. This article will teach you the true causes of baby bottle decay, how to address it if your child already has tooth decay, and how to prevent tooth decay. Whether you want to prevent cavities in your infant or if your young child already has baby bottle decay, you want your child to have a healthier mouth.
Consequences of Baby Teeth Bottle Decay
The confusion around ‘baby teeth bottle decay’
Also known as “baby bottle tooth decay” tooth decay in baby teeth is due to drinking sugary liquids from a baby bottle at nighttime. The result was many cavities in the mouths of some infants and toddlers. The blame was placed on the sugary liquids and constant exposure to the baby teeth.
Lactose is a sweet milk sugar and when it spends a long time in contact with an infant’s teeth, it can encourage tooth decay. Lactose from milk falls into the category of “fermentable carbohydrates,” as well as glucose, sucrose, and fructose. Certain bacteria use these sugars to promote baby bottle decay.
There’s a big problem with the term “baby bottle decay.” It’s misleading because tells us that childhood tooth decay is caused only by sugars in milk or juice. Here’s the confusing part; sugars from bottle feeding DO cause tooth decay in kids.
But that’s an overly simplistic view of tooth decay. When a baby or toddler has tooth decay, most pediatric dentists will point to the problems of using baby bottles with sweet liquids, the cavity-causing bacteria Streptococcus mutans, and fluoride.1 However, baby bottle decay is an early sign that other health problems are brewing just below the surface.
A child with cavities is missing the friendly bacteria and nutrients that prevent tooth decay.
What does Baby Teeth Bottle Decay REALLY tell us about kids dental health?
Baby bottle cavities are not just about bottle feeding habits. Bottle caries is actually a sign that your child is missing two key factors in oral health development.
- Healthy oral microbiota
- Calcium balancing nutrients and vitamins
If your child has baby bottle tooth decay it tells you that they have a disturbed microbiome and they are not eating a diet that strengthens teeth.
Imbalanced Oral Microbiome
There are 10 times more bacteria in our bodies than there are human cells. Good bacteria protect and defend the body, help to make vitamins, digest food, and promote healthy metabolism. We depend on all of the bacteria and fungi, and even viruses, in our mouths to stay healthy and cavity-free. Called the “oral microbiota,” these “bugs” can help us, hurt us, or they can be harmless.
Baby bottle tooth decay is a sign that the bacteria in your child’s mouth are out of balance and are damaging his or her teeth. Tooth decay happens when the protective, good bacteria are missing. Harmful bugs can take over and cause tooth cavities, often in the presence of sugary foods.
Streptococcus mutans, or “Strep mutans” for short, is a bacteria that has a bad reputation for causing cavities. However, most pediatric dentists focus too much on Strep mutans. Streptococcus mutans can’t overgrow and create cavities if your child has good, healthy bacteria protecting his or her mouth. Strep mutans gets the blame for cavities. But it’s really the microbiome’s overall health that determines whether Strep mutans causes trouble or sits peacefully on the sidelines.
Can breastmilk and breastfeeding cause or prevent tooth decay?
The way that bacteria set up in our bodies begins with birth and breastfeeding. A vaginal birth introduces billions of bacteria to the baby’s nose, mouth, eyes, and skin. Secondly, a baby drinks healthy probiotics in breastmilk. Good bacteria first arrive in the mouth and later settle in the gastrointestinal tract where they will play a major role in health.
Scientists have found at least 400 species of bacteria in breastmilk. It turns out breastmilk is a great way to deliver good bacteria, or probiotics, to the newborn baby. It also contains prebiotics or food that helps good bacteria grow and thrive.2
If a baby is born by Caesarean section, he or she doesn’t pass through the birth canal and misses out on the mother’s healthy vaginal bacteria. Babies born by Caesarean section have less probiotic bacteria, more bad bacteria, and are more likely to develop certain chronic diseases.2
Along the same lines, breastfeeding is an important part of building a healthy microbiome. Bottle caries is a sign that the protective microbiome is not present. If the baby does not get a good dose of a healthy mother’s bacteria, he or she may be more prone to cavities. To give your baby a healthy oral microbiome, I recommend breastfeeding for at least six months and longer, if possible.
There are a handful of studies that suggest breastmilk can cause tooth decay in newborns. However, these studies are flawed because they measure the effects of lactose (not whole breastmilk). The majority of studies show that breast milk does NOT cause tooth decay.
Breast milk is critical for the immune system. It delivers the good bacteria that protect teeth from cavity-producing bacteria, such as Strep mutans. Breastfeeding is better for the development of the mouth and jaw. Breastfeeding encourages tongue muscles to develop a healthy swallowing response
On the other hand, bottle feeding does not help with proper tongue and swallowing posture. It allows milk to pool in the baby’s mouth, that can cause cavities.
Breastmilk is the best way to give your child a healthy oral microbiome. Breast milk delivers a dose of probiotic bacteria that protects against tooth decay. For all of these reasons, breastfeeding should be considered a mother’s best tool to raise a child with naturally healthy teeth.
Prevent cavities naturally with good nutrition: Vitamins A, D, and K2
If your child has bottle caries, it is a sign that he or she doesn’t have enough of the vitamins that help prevent cavities naturally. Teeth are bones and are made primarily of minerals such as calcium. The fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, and K2, deliver these minerals that are needed to build strong teeth. Our teeth also use vitamins A, D, and K2 to turn on the immune system that protects and fights against too many bad bacteria in the mouth.
Vitamin D, or the sunshine vitamin, is one of the most important vitamins for healthy bone development. Most people do not have enough vitamin D. This is why I recommend testing vitamin D levels if there are any signs of tooth cavities. If your young child has tooth decay, it is a sign that he or she is not getting enough vitamins, especially vitamin D.
The vitamin status of the mother matters! A breastfeeding baby depends on her mother to give her vitamin D through the breastmilk. If the mother isn’t eating a healthy vitamin D diet and getting sunshine, then the baby will miss out on vitamins that also help strengthen teeth.
So overall, drinking sugary fluids in a bottle (such as milk or fruit juice) CAN contribute to kids tooth decay, BUT only because other problems were brewing below the surface. Tooth decay is a sign of an imbalanced microbiome and a poor diet. The way to prevent baby bottle decay is a whole parenting feeding approach that includes breastfeeding and takes the mother’s health and nutrition into account.
How to prevent cavities in baby teeth
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends. However, I also urge my patients to address the root causes of baby bottle decay.
Here are my suggestions to combat tooth decay in your baby or toddler:
- Breastfeed your baby to promote a healthy oral and gut microbiota for at least six months and continue breastfeeding on demand, as you see fit.
- Eat a whole foods diet, rich in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K2, vegetables, and organic meats; low in grains and fruits; and low in sugar, processed grains (like white flour), and refined vegetable oils. (Download my free EBook to get started today)
- Do not put your child to sleep with a bottle of milk or juice.
- Teach your baby to use cups instead of bottles after 12 months of age. I recommend going from breastfeeding to the use of cups as the best strategy to fight childhood tooth cavities.
- If you could not breastfeed, or your child is already weaned, take the following steps:
- Have your child assessed for tongue-tie or oral restriction.
- Have your child use cups from 1-year old, not bottles.
- Follow the dental diet for your kid’s oral health.
- Give your child a daily oral probiotic containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species daily and/or probiotic-rich foods such as cultured cheese, butter or sauerkraut.
- Give your child cod liver oil each day to raise levels of fat-soluble vitamins A and D and omega 3 fatty acids.
- Give your child emu oil or another rich source of vitamin K2.
- Test your vitamin D levels if you are breastfeeding. If you have low vitamin D levels, take cod liver oil and emu oil daily. Always consult your physician.
- If you are prone to dental disease, infections, digestive symptoms, or ear, nose, and throat symptoms, you probably have an imbalanced microbiota. Work with an integrative and functional medicine practitioner before your next pregnancy to rebuild a healthy microbiome, which you can pass on to your next child.
Healthy kids teeth mean healthy kids!
It can be heartbreaking to see your young child struggling with tooth pain or cavities. If your little one is getting cavities it can even harm their future financial and social life! Baby bottle decay can interfere with normal feeding, sleeping, and drinking because of tooth pain. But more importantly, it is a clue that all is not well with your child’s overall health.
Your pediatric dentist may suggest that baby bottle feeding, Streptococcus mutans, and too little fluoride are the causes of your kid’s dental health problems.
While baby bottle feeding can contribute to tooth cavities, it isn’t the only problem.
The true causes of early childhood cavities are an imbalanced microbiome and a diet lacking in the nutrients that protect and defend teeth.
A healthy oral microbiome is put into place through breastfeeding. This is how babies get good bacteria that protect them from disease and combat bad bacteria. Babies also get important nutrients from breastmilk. Vitamins A, D, and K2 help build strong teeth and boost the immune system in the mouth to fight cavities. A healthy mouth is a sign of a healthy body.
Use nutrition, probiotics, breastfeeding, and smart feeding practices to prevent tooth cavities in your infants and toddlers and set them up for all-around better health later in life.
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Want to know more? Dr Steven Lin’s book, The Dental Diet, is available to order today. An exploration of ancestral medicine, the human microbiome and epigenetics it’s a complete guide to the mouth-body connection. Take the journey and the 40-day delicious food program for life-changing oral and whole health.
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- Colak H, Dulgergil CT, Dalli M, Hamidi MM. Early childhood caries update: A review of causes, diagnoses, and treatments. Journal of natural science, biology, and medicine. 2013;4(1):29-38.
- Mueller NT, Bakacs E, Combellick J, Grigoryan Z, Dominguez-Bello MG. The infant microbiome development: mom matters. Trends Mol Med. 2015;21(2):109-117.
- Rondanelli M, Opizzi A, Perna S, Faliva MA. Update on nutrients involved in maintaining healthy bone. Endocrinologia y nutricion : organo de la Sociedad Espanola de Endocrinologia y Nutricion. 2013;60(4):197-210.
- Mahdavi-Roshan M, Ebrahimi M, Ebrahimi A. Copper, magnesium, zinc and calcium status in osteopenic and osteoporotic post-menopausal women. Clinical cases in mineral and bone metabolism : the official journal of the Italian Society of Osteoporosis, Mineral Metabolism, and Skeletal Diseases. 2015;12(1):18-21.
- Dawodu A, Tsang RC. Maternal vitamin D status: effect on milk vitamin D content and vitamin D status of breastfeeding infants. Adv Nutr. 2012;3(3):353-361.