Ask the Dentist: Adding sweet things to a baby's milk is storing up long-term trouble

Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care in Belfast, says sweetening a bottle to help baby sleep rots teeth, threatens health and doesn't work anyway

Don't be tempted to add sugar or mushed-up rusk to a baby's bottle – no matter how much they cry
Lucy Stock

NEWborn babies – lovely, yummy bundles of love who, true to their job description, max out on their crying and not sleeping duties. This can get wearisome and parents down the ages have tried all manner of tactics to induce sleep. One method that's thought to help is adding a spoonful of sugar or mushed-up rusk to a bottle.

But does this work and what are the side effects of these seemingly harmless activities?

One American study with 106 infants added baby cereal to their bottles and looked at their sleep pattern. They found that feeding infants cereal in the bottle before bedtime did not appear to make much difference to them sleeping through the night.

Rusks are made of 29 per cent sugar – more than a chocolate digestive. This dissolves in the milk and sits on the newly erupted baby teeth throughout the night. The teeth rot, turn black and then start hurting the baby. It's at this stage that children really ramp up the crying. Heartbreakingly, dentists have to remove the abscessed teeth under general anaesthetic. Some children end up with no teeth – speaking, eating and socialising is affected. This is called bottle caries and no mum or dad wishes this scenario for their child.

Baby teeth do matter even though they are a temporary phase of development. They are there to guide the adult teeth into position, much like a tugboat, so when they're lost early the teeth go off course or don't erupt at all.

Babies like sweet-tasting foods and parents get a kick out of seeing enjoyment on their faces. However, this comes at a cost to the child's dental and general health. The earlier a baby is introduced to sweet foods the more likely they are to choose them as they grow up. No-one wants their child to suffer from decayed teeth and other preventable diseases. The American Heart Association recommends avoiding added sugar before age two.

Not giving the child sugar is not depriving them of happiness – it's giving them more chance to lead a healthy life with good teeth.

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