Bottle Babies Caries - Namibian Dental Association

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Q: What is 'Bottle Baby Caries' or 'Bottle Feeding Syndrome'?

A: ‘Bottle Baby Caries’ or ‘Bottle Feeding Syndrome’ is the result of an incorrect feeding method in infants that can result in such rampant decay of a toddler’s teeth that the child will suffer pain and may lose teeth at a very early age. To avoid this problem it is important to understand the mechanism of this feeding problem:

When a baby sucks on a bottle the baby’s tongue comes forward and almost draws the liquid though the teat. It is this tongue forward action that allows a baby to suck while lying down and to happily fall asleep while sucking on a bottle - and herein lies the problem. As the baby falls asleep the sucking action slows down and the liquid the baby is drinking starts to pool in the mouth for some seconds before swallowing. As the swallowing becomes slower and slower, the forwards position of the tongue covers the lower teeth and to a certain extent protects these teeth. However, the upper teeth are exposed to the pooling liquid, especially the upper front teeth since the teat is right between them and the tongue. Whatever is in the bottle remains in contact with these upper teeth for however long the bottle is in the mouth.

The next part of the problem is the content of the bottle! Acidic liquids damage the enamel of the teeth physically. Liquids high in sugar content encourage bacterial growth in the mouth. Remember that carbonated cold drinks and pure fruit juices are both of these and should be avoided in bottles.

‘Bottle Baby Caries’ shows a specific pattern of very seriously affecting the front upper teeth with the first upper primary molars having the next serious risk of decay. The lower teeth are often not affected at all. Sometimes the decay happens so quickly that mothers will say that the teeth came out brown. ‘Bottle Baby Caries’ is relatively easy for a dentist to diagnose, but often very difficult to treat.

How to avoid ‘Bottle Baby Caries’

  • Try not to allow your baby to fall asleep whilst sucking on a bottle. Rather have the baby finish the bottle while still awake and then put the baby down.

  • Avoid liquids with a high acid and/or sugar content – carbonated cold drinks and undiluted pure fruit juices are two of the main culprits.

  • Do not add sugar to whatever you give the baby in the bottle. Your baby does not need extra sugar, there is enough sugar in the normal diet.

  • Try to use only water in the bottle if your baby refuses lying down without a bottle.

  • Try to wean your baby of the bottle sooner rather than later.

  • Maintain the highest possible standard of oral hygiene for your baby.


Please also see the questions on cleaning baby's teeth, and on 'Infant Do’s and Don’ts'. Visit the section on Tooth Erruption Charts.

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