It is called Nursing Bottle Mouth. Mom and Dad go jitters over a child crying, refusing to go to sleep. What's to be done? Mom says, baby needs the bottle. Dad hollers, hurry it up. And in goes the bottle, with the milk in it. Or the formula. Or any other liquid with sweeteners in it.

By Sushil Kutty

Published: Fri 30 Jan 2004, 2:35 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 12:45 AM

Baby loves it. Coos, and goes to sleep with the bottle in the mouth. Mom and Dad smile.

Ah, no marks there for splendid ignorance! For, when Mom and Dad take it easy, smiling at the resting face, plaque takes over. The sweetened liquid in the bottle begins to take its toll. Plaque - the thin film of invisible bacteria and other byproducts - produces acids that attack the teeth. Twenty minutes of this barrage every time the baby sucks on the bottle and there's room enough for rampant caries or Nursing Bottle Mouth to take hold, all because of the sugars in the milk or other liquids that go to feed a child

It's a rampant condition, runs amok given a chance. And most parents are ever giving it a chance. Even if unknowingly. The love, and concern, for the child eventually showing in its teeth, by when it is too late. Those primary teeth lose their milk-white sheen, and are ready to come off their hold.

Dr Venkita Raj, orthodontist, Zulekha Hospital, Sharjah, talks of a recent visit to a primary school in the emirate where he found that half the students were victims of Nursing Bottle Mouth.

"Nursing bottle mouth is a dental condition that can destroy the teeth of an infant or young child, and the teeth most likely to be damaged will be the upper front teeth, the ones that make a difference in the child's smile," says Dr Venkita Raj. The parents are solely to blame.

Then again, it not just what's put in the child's mouth that causes NBM. It's how often, and for how long a time, the child's teeth get exposed to decay-causing acids. Relying on the pacifier or comforter many times a day for long periods each time is death for the child's teeth. And allowing a child to fall asleep with a bottle in the mouth is not a great idea. Saliva flow increases during sleep, and liquid from the nursing bottle pools around the child's teeth for long periods. The bacteria love these pools. Great place to breed, fertile ground to thrive.

What's the big deal, the child will get a new pair of teeth... Yes, that's right but does that make primary teeth any less important. "No," says Dr Venkita Raj, "It is important to take good care of the child's primary teeth. Children need strong, healthy teeth to chew food easily, learn to speak clearly, and to look good to themselves and to friends. Primary teeth also help to reserve space in the jaw for the permanent teeth. One tooth lost too early and the one beside it might drift into the space created, leaving no room for the permanent tooth to come in, or have sufficient space to assume a proper position. This can make the teeth crooked or crowded, affecting the child's dental health and appearance," says Dr Venkita Raj.

So, how do you prevent NBM or rampant caries? First and foremost parents should get into their heads that even a baby's teeth are susceptible to decay. And, that, as soon as they appear. What happens is that by the time the decay is noticed, it may be too late to save the child's teeth.

Prevention is to protect those teeth. A few step will help:

  • After each feeding, wipe the child's teeth with a damp washcloth or gauze pad to remove the plaque.
  • Never allow the child to fall asleep with a nursing bottle in the mouth.
  • If the child is used to a pacifier or comforter, fill the bottle with clear and clean water. Consult the paediatrician.
  • Make sure the child gets the fluoride needed for decay-resistant teeth. Consult the dentist.
  • Start dental visits before the child's second birthday.

Last, but not the least, remember "most children start out in life with strong, healthy teeth". It's those of us who have passed that stage long ago who tend to forget that. Mom and Dad need to take a course in dental care. Also a lesson on priorities. Love is not Nursing Bottle Mouth. Love is putting a halt to the "rampant" in caries.

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