A couple of recent events have prompted me to write on a subject that affects a segment of the population that is the most susceptible to dental disease. The topic is specifically nursing bottle caries but I would like to include anyone in the age group of the 0-5 range as a possible victim. As you are reading this you may be thinking to yourself that you don’t have any children so why should I continue to read this column. In fact, just about all of us from the teen population that may have a younger sibling to a grandparent who has young grandchildren can be a positive influence on the dental health of a young child.

The term “Nursing Bottle Caries” comes from a specific pattern of dental caries or cavities that is seen on a child who is put to sleep with a bottle. It isn’t so much the bottle itself as what is in the bottle that causes this sad situation. When there is a sugary liquid in the bottle and the child is sleeping with the bottle the sugary liquid is sitting on the child’s teeth constantly over a period of time and causing the decay. The main pattern of decay that is seen is the six upper front teeth on the side facing out are the teeth to rot. It is extremely important that if a child is allowed to sleep with a bottle that only water is put in the bottle. Fruit juices, artificial fruit juices, and milk all contain plenty of sugar for the bacteria in the mouth to feast on and cause the child to have to deal with the consequences of badly decayed front teeth. One of the events that I alluded to in my opening sentence was a young girl who was getting picked on badly by classmates because of her black smile. The pain in her teeth was causing her to not be able to enjoy foods and her speech was affected as well. Please ask yourself the question: “Do I want my (child, grandchild, brother, sister, niece, nephew…etc) to have to endure that type of pain and embarrassment?” Sometimes I am asked why not just take those teeth out since they are “just baby teeth”? By removing those teeth there are several grave consequences. The speech development is affected, the capability to eat is affected, and the self esteem of the child can be crushed by not being able to smile. Face it, as I have witnessed, kids can be brutal to one another. Is that what you want for your child?

The second event that prompted a discussion on this topic was the veto by Governor Patterson of a bill that would require a warning label on “sippy cups” to state that these cups put the child at greater risk for dental cavities. Now this can be argued both ways about whether or not it is the government’s responsibility to go that far in requiring such a label but that isn’t the point of this discussion. The point is that there have been studies that show that the incidence of cavities in children is much higher when they use a sippy cup. As I talked about above, it comes down to what is in the sippy cup that the child is constantly bathing the teeth in.

To help prevent the incidence of dental caries in the most susceptible population please heed several suggestions. The first is to never put a child to sleep with a bottle unless it contains only water. The second is if a child uses a sippy cup for drinking please be sure to either brush their teeth or at least rinse with water after a sugary drink. I would be one happy dentist if I never had to see another 3 year old come in to my office with a mouth full of cavities.