Ask The Dentist: Sweet drinks cause baby bottle tooth decay

Dentist Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care in Belfast says it's important parents don't use sweet drinks to comfort babies

Don't be fooled by labels reading 'no added sugar' – fruit juice can 'naturally' contain as much sugar as cola

UNFORTUNATELY toddlers as young as 18 months are now losing their teeth because they are regularly being given sugary drinks – even cola – in their bottles. One survey found that tooth decay affected 12 per cent of three-year-olds.

Baby bottle tooth decay (BBTD) is an upsetting and devastating form of tooth decay. BBTD causes serious pain and infection; some of the newly erupted teeth are even being dissolved down to the gum line.

Baby decay happens when sweetened liquids or those with natural sugars (like milk, formula, and fruit juice) cling to an infant's teeth for a long time. Bacteria in the mouth thrive on this sugar and make acids that attack the teeth.

The main problem is how long the teeth are in contact with the sugar, not the amount of sugar. This means sweet drinks in a bottle or feeder cup and lollipops are particularly damaging because they bathe the teeth in sugar for long periods of time.

It’s very tempting to use a sweet drink to try and comfort your child. However, parents are unwittingly causing harm to their baby’s teeth. Parents are falling into the trap of thinking that a fruit juice advertised as "organic", "natural" or with "no added sugar" is inherently healthy. A standard 330ml carton of orange juice can contain almost as much sugar as a can of coke.

Keep your babies teeth strong by ensuring that your child does not fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, fruit juices, or such other sweetened liquids. Instead of bottle feeding a baby sweetened liquids, consider the option of comforting the child using a bottle filled with cool, plain water. Aim to introduce the child to a sippy cup by their first birthday.

Some parents also feel that their children find the taste of water boring and need an extra kick from the juice. If they are always given fruit juice or a sugary drink then anything else will taste boring by comparison. By giving the child water with their breakfast, lunch and dinner from an early age then they will think this is normal and learn to like the taste of water. Good habits are easier to establish early; but rest assured it’s never too late to change a habit.

However difficult or challenging it is, as a parent it’s important we remain strong and focus on the long-term health of the child’s teeth and body.

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