News & Knowledge

Nursing Bottle Decay

What is Nursing Bottle Decay?

Nursing bottle decay occurs when the enamel is dissolved by the constant “washing” of acid over the teeth. Acid is formed each time sugar enters the mouth and mixes with the bacteria normally present there. This acid attack may last thirty minutes and leads to rapid decay and often to painful abscesses.

What fluids can cause Nursing Bottle Decay?

Any sweetened drink in a bottle such as soft drinks, orange and apple juice and the powdered sugar mixed drinks; even plain or concentrated milk break down in the mouth to form lactic acid in the presence of mouth bacteria.

When does Nursing Bottle Decay occur?

Baby teeth that come in dark or discolored may be the first sign that a problem exists. Nursing bottle decay can occur from one to four years of age. A similar problem can be produced by honey or sugar-dipped soothers used during this critical age. Daytime “security” bottles also produce dental decay but the bottle in bed is most damaging to your child. The night bottle is often the last one to be given up and may be used well past the normal bottle stage of 12 to 18 months.

Why does Nursing Bottle Decay occur?

  • The high concentration of “sweet” fluid washing over the upper front teeth subjects them to the maximum acid attack thus causing early decay. The lower front teeth are protected for a short time because the tongue extends over them during sucking.
  • As the child drifts from deep to light sleep he makes rhythmic sucking movements. This fills the mouth with a fresh supply of sugary liquid that soon becomes acid.
  • Saliva helps wash away food particles and neutralize acid produced by mouth bacteria. During sleep, less saliva is produced and so its’ protective effect is less than when the child is active.
  • Newly erupted baby teeth have not yet become completely hardened and so are more easily dissolved (decayed) by the action of acid produced by mouth bacteria.

The above information was originally produced by The Division of Dentistry, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ont., Ottawa and published by the Canadian Dental Association.

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