Can baby bottles lead to tooth decay?

Your little one goes to bed with a bottle of milk. No harm, right? But did you know you could be putting their teeth at risk of developing baby bottle tooth decay? Our Adelaide dentists explain how to stop your child getting tooth decay – right from birth.

Why first teeth are important

Should I let my baby sleep with a bottle? | Adelaide Quality DentalLooking after your child’s baby teeth is just as important as its adult, permanent teeth. Why? For little ones, we want to avoid dental decay, fillings and major intervention like tooth extractions because these serious dental problems can affect the way their ‘big’ teeth come through.

Sadly, it’s not uncommon for Australian dentists to pull out rotting teeth from toddlers and young children, leaving them without enough teeth to speak and eat properly.

If your child needs many baby teeth taken out in one go, this can cause lifelong problems when their adult teeth come through – such as crooked, crowded or misaligned teeth – and they may need orthodontic treatment.

Little teeth still get decay

Babies develop dental decay the same way we do: bacteria in our mouth build up on teeth (if we don’t brush and floss). When we eat sugary or starchy foods, the bacteria form a gunky film of plaque and an acid that dissolves the hard enamel of the tooth. This causes a cavity.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2009,
42% of five-year-olds and 61% of nine-year-olds experienced decay
in their baby teeth.

5 things dentists wish all parents knew

We all know that lollies and lemonade aren’t great for kids’ teeth (and waistlines). But it’s not just too much sugar that causes tooth decay – it’s also how often it’s eaten or drunk throughout the day and night. See if you can change some of these simple habits.

  1. Do you put your baby to bed with a bottle of milk? The sugars in milk and other high-fructose drinks like fruit juice pool in their mouth while sleeping, building up bacteria and eroding the enamel on their teeth. If you have to give a bottle at night, stick to plain water.
  2. Are you giving them juice or soft drinks in a bottle during the day? Again, sugary liquid sits in their mouth and rots their teeth. Switch to water in a beaker or cup, or if you can’t get them off juice, water it down.
  3. Are they sucking on a sweet dummy? Avoid dipping pacifiers in honey, jam, chocolate or sugar water.
  4. Are you forgetting to brush their teeth? When their first tooth bud erupts, gently use a small, soft toothbrush morning and night, after they’ve had their last drink. Brush with plain water up to 18 months, then use a thin smear of toothpaste.
  5. Do you give them sugary foods and drinks? Even the ‘healthy’ ones – sultanas, muesli bars, orange juice – can be loaded with decay-causing sugar. Try to cut these out and avoid letting them snack all day, as sugars sit in the mouth. Australian dentists believe high-sugar foods and soft drinks, cordials, flavoured waters and fruit juices are the number one culprits when it comes to tooth decay in children.

How to tell if your toddler has dental decay

The first sign: chalky, white spots on their teeth (called demineralisation). This shows that the enamel is starting to break down. You may also notice:

  • The colour of their teeth changes – a tooth with a cavity will go light brown, become a darker brownish-black, then a hole (cavity) will appear
  • Your toddler might complain when eating food or drinks that are hot, cold or sweet – their teeth are sensitive
  • They’re cranky – they may not be able to explain that their tooth hurts
  • Their teeth are soft to the touch
  • Bad breath
  • Your child can’t chew properly
  • They’re saying something tastes yukky their mouth
  • They’re not sleeping well

Can you bring a baby to see us?

Our dentists can help to diagnose a sleep related breathing disorder. Mild cases can be treated with an oral appliance similar to a mouthguard. Sleep apnea in Children

Yes! While changing habits, as we’ve talked about here, can help minimise dental decay, a dental check-up is still the best way to prevent problems and learn how to look after your child’s teeth for life.

At Adelaide Quality Dental, we love to see little ones before their first birthday – about six months after their first tooth has popped up. We can check for dental decay, if their teeth are coming through well and help with teething pain.


If you’d like to make an appointment for your baby or young one, we find it’s best to bring them early in the day, before they get too tired.

Baby bottle tooth decay Adelaide: find out if your baby’s teeth are healthy

Call us at Adelaide Quality Dental on 08 8346 3940 for a time that suits you and your tot.