Bottle Decay in a Young Child

Written By: Dr. Richard Livesay

At Foothills Community Dentistry, our sister office, we strive to provide caring, quality dentistry to all patients. We recently had a case in our office that we believe would be beneficial to share in an effort to bring awareness to a condition that’s not well known.

What is Bottle Decay?

Nursing caries is a form of tooth decay that is caused by children sleeping with bottles. This is also called “baby bottle” or “nursing bottle tooth decay” and is caused when a child goes to bed with a bottle filled with milk or juice, instead of water.  Juice or milk-filled bottles tend to be used to calm a fussy child, however, these liquids coat the teeth of the infant or small child with sugar that stays on the teeth all night long. If this practice is continued on a nightly basis, the sugars coating the teeth result in tooth decay, also known as cavities, from bacteria in the mouth.

Bottle Decay typically affects multiple teeth, but the most common are the front teeth.  The resulting decay can be quite severe, leaving the affected teeth with a brown, rotted appearance. These teeth can become painful, debilitating, and can interfere with the child’s ability to eat comfortably.

Our Patient’s Story

The 5-year-old patient’s guardian came to us with a concern about the appearance of the child’s four upper front teeth. Upon examination, these teeth had the typical appearance of Bottle Decay. Fortunately, none of the affected teeth were causing the child any discomfort (although, they would have with time).  However, the child was being teased by his playmates about his smile and after questioning the guardian, it was revealed that the child was put to bed with a bottle containing juice every night. After I explained that the juice is what caused the damage to the front teeth, the guardian wanted to know if the teeth could be restored. We informed her that once the decay was removed, if enough tooth structure remained, we could do some cosmetic bonding on the front teeth, a procedure in which a tooth-colored material is applied onto the tooth to restore the smile.

After a two hour appointment, the child looked in the mirror, smiled and said, “I have teeth!”  Everyone in the office smiled that day because we were able to restore his front teeth and give him back his smile.

He is fortunate his guardian brought him to us before he had pain, and now his playmates will no longer tease him about his smile.  This is when dentistry is truly a rewarding profession.

Spread the Word!

If you or anyone you know has infants or young children, please share this with them to help educate others about this condition. Together, we can prevent bottle decay from happening to other children.


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