Baby Health Health Sleep Sleep Toddler — 18 November 2012
Baby Bottles, Pacifiers and Thumb-sucking

That bedtime bottle may soothe your baby tonight, but the milk or juice inside it could lead to major dental problems tomorrow.

Sucking is a normal, natural reflex for infants. Besides the fact that without this reflex a baby couldn’t be fed, it also offers relaxation and comfort, which is exactly why so many babies and toddlers continue sucking well after they need to do so for nourishment. The concern that a lot of parents have is that thumbsucking and pacifier use can cause damage to children’s teeth that can only be repaired through orthodontics.

Pediatric dentist Dr. David Kenney says with young children neither thumbsucking nor use of a pacifier (or soother) is harmful, although most dentists prefer to see a child use a soother. “We actually recommend soothers and the reason we do, is that a child who starts out with a soother will be more apt to give that soother up than if they start out with their thumb. With a thumb you have a friend and constant companion well into the time when the permanent teeth erupt.”

Dr. Kenney feels that parents shouldn’t really expect two and a half or three year olds to stop sucking their thumb, but that “by five, or five and a half years of age, if the habit hasn’t stopped by then there is some risk of damage which may need to be repaired orthidontically later on.”

If there is one concern that over-rides all others, specifically when it comes to children and dental health, is the use of juice or milk bottles at bedtime says Kenney, “because at that time the amount of saliva is decreased and the amount of swallowing is reduced. I know that what they do is suck a little bit, then hold it in their mouth, swallow it, then suck a little more, then hold it and swallow. This keeps supplying, constantly, sugar to the bacteria. I see children with rampant decay of their primary teeth from these causes.”

The result is what dentists call Nursing Bottle Decay, and according to pediatric dentist Dr. Richard Kramer, it’s becoming more common. “Interestingly enough, although decay rates have generally gone down for children, for very young children decay rates have increased due to nursing bottle decay.”

The final word is, if your child has to have a bedtime bottle, the only safe thing to fill it with is water.


Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show. Any advice or information contained herein should never be a substitute for professional and/or medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. For more information please review Terms of Service.

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