A leading culprit in the development of childhood tooth decay is a baby's bottle, dentists say.
Tooth decay, often referred to in children as baby bottle tooth decay, remains the most common chronic disease in children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of children starting kindergarten have one or more decayed teeth.
"This disease is 100 percent preventable," said Indru Punwani, head of the pediatric dentistry department at the University of Illinois Medical Center. "Don't put the baby to bed with a bottle."
To comfort a fussy baby, too many parents put children to bed with bottles filled with sugary substances, which can include fruit juices, formula, milk and even breast milk. Sugar feeds bacteria, and the bacteria produce acids, which attack the child's teeth.
A child's baby teeth, which typically start to appear about six months after birth, are at risk for tooth decay as soon as they emerge. If the child finds comfort when left with a bottle at night, Punwani recommends only water.
Childhood tooth decay also begins with cavity-causing bacteria passed from a caregiver to the infant through saliva. When, for example, a mother shares a spoon with her baby, bacteria from the mother's mouth can transfer to the baby's mouth, where it thrives.
When left untreated, tooth decay can so severely damage the teeth of infants and toddlers that dentists have no choice but to extract them.