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Night-time feeds can hurt your child's teeth, lead to nursing caries

How to prevent Nursing carries

Written by Debjani Arora |Updated : March 3, 2014 4:20 PM IST

carries1It's a great sight to see your baby break into a smile with his little pearly whites. Teeth first start appearing when your baby is six months old, for some it might also take up to a year. As you gape at your smiling baby you probably don't give much of a thought to your baby's oral care. Mums, you need to care for your baby's teeth as soon the first tooth has erupted. Yes, there are a host of dental troubles that can take refuge in his little mouth and they don't spare babies on a diet of milk breast milk or formula feed.

One of the most common dental problems that can trouble your baby in his initial months of life is nursing caries.

What is nursing caries?

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Nursing caries are dental caries or cavities that erode the milk tooth of babies and toddlers who are nursed with milk during bedtime. This is also termed as bottle caries as they can develop even in babies who are bottle fed. Both breastfed and bottle fed babies are at a risk of nursing caries. Here are some of the most common questions on early childhood dental decay answered.

Why does it happen?

As the name suggests it occurs in babies who are nursed. 'Both breastfed and bottle fed babies stand a chance to suffer from this oral hitch. Nursing carries is usually caused due to the pooling of milk inside the mouth of your little one, when milk remains in the confines of his mouth for the whole night,' says Dr Farhin Katge, pediatric dentist, Mumbai. In India or even elsewhere in the world many mothers find it easier and convenient to feed the baby while putting him to sleep either through breastfeeding or bottle feeding, anything that would put an active baby to rest. But little do they know that it's harming the baby. 'This is where the mess starts from. Children, who are put to sleep with a bottle in their mouth or while receiving a breastfeed, fall asleep without gulping the last bit of milk that reaches their mouth. This milk that isn't swallowed but stays in the mouth for the entire night works its way to cause decay or nursing carries,' explains Dr Katge.

Interestingly nursing carries do not affect the lower front teeth that are the first to make their presence felt in your baby's little mouth. Instead it's the upper front teeth or the upper posterior teeth that's harmed. 'The reason being the tongue lying above the lower teeth acts as an barrier to the pooled milk whereas the upper posterior teeth are in direct contact with the pooled milk the entire night,' explains Dr Katge.

The caries or decay doesn't occur overnight but due to pooling of milk that has been happening for months. Hence it's essential to make it a habit to take care of the baby's teeth.

Nursing caries and its occurrence is not just limited to intake of milk. When the child gets his first set of molars, parents are overjoyed and would try to give him a taste of everything. 'Excess sweet can also add to the process of decay, mithai, sticky chocolate all add to the already concerning habit of nursing children in the night,' says Dr Katge.

What are its consequences?

Many think that milk tooth would not need much of attention as they would fall eventually and give way to permanent teeth. 'This belief in the myth makes children's oral care even more neglected among parents. Milk teeth would fall but it will stay with your child for the next seven to eight years and it needs to be strong enough to serve its purpose,' says Dr Katge. The primary functions of milk teeth are:

  • Mastication
  • Helping to develop speech
  • Maintaining space for permanent teeth
  • Aesthetics, which also affects physiological wellbeing.

All these above mentioned functions determine not only good oral health but a child's general well-being. A child suffering from nursing caries can have:

  • Discoloured black front teeth interfering in aesthetics.
  • Tooth decay can be painful. If you ever had one you would know how severe it would be for your baby.
  • Your child may not be able to bite with front teeth either because of pain or a chipped tooth due to decay.
  • Badly broken tooth can affect speech development.
  • Dental decay can lead to swelling, infection and acute pain.
  • Infections in teeth due to caries can cause the child to have respiratory tract infections.

How can you counter nursing caries?

There are ways in which you can prevent your baby's pearly whites from early decay. They are:

  • Stop night time feeds: Nursing carries is caused due to breast feeding or bottle feeding the baby at night. 'If your baby needs the comfort of suckling, try giving him a bottle of water and not a feed before sleep. If milk is inevitable, do not sweeten it while giving the bottle. After a breast feed do not forget to burp your baby to avoid pooling in the mouth,' advises Dr Katge. Try and wean off night time feeds with milk by 18 months to prevent caries.
  • Encourage your child to use a sipper: Milk from the sipper would limit the chances of milk pooling than bottle suckling or breast feeding, hence maintaining the health of the milk teeth.
  • Keep teeth clean: Once your baby has her whites in place take care to clean them regularly. 'For babies cleaning with a wet soft cloth or using a finger toothbrush can go a long way. Beyond 18 months encourage your baby to use a brush with a teeny-weeny amount of toothpaste. Remember to pick non-fluoride toothpaste,' says Dr Katge.
  • Take extra care when the baby is ill: All those sweetened syrups you give your child when sick contribute to tooth decay as well. Do not forget to make your baby sip water after medication and clean her teeth effectively.
  • Check your diet too: Not only your baby's overall health, but even his oral hygiene has a lot to do with your diet and lifestyle. 'Ensure that you have a balanced diet during breastfeeding and avoid smoking and alcohol. Keep away from antibiotics, antidepressants, painkillers while you nurse naturally,' advises Dr Katge.

When should you visit a doctor?

If your baby shows any signs of oral discomfort you should not hesitate to visit the pediatric dentist. Ideally have the first visit done right after the first birthday. Follow it up every six months.

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