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Ages & Stages

How can I help my child prevent tooth decay?

Tooth decay (early childhood caries) is the most common chronic infectious disease of childhood. Tooth decay may also be called nursing caries or baby bottle tooth decay.

Tooth decay develops when a baby’s mouth is infected by acid-producing bacteria. It also develops when the child’s teeth and gums are exposed to any liquids or foods other than water for long periods. Natural or added sugars in liquids or foods are changed to acid by bacteria in the mouth. This acid then dissolves the outer part of the teeth, causing them to decay.

The most common way this happens is when parents put their children to bed with a bottle of formula, milk, juice (even diluted), soft drinks, sugar water, or sugared drinks. It can also happen when children are allowed to drink continually from a sippy cup, or suck on a bottle filled with something other than water.

To help prevent decay:

  • Never put your child to bed with a bottle or food.
  • After your child gets teeth, gently wipe the child’s mouth with a damp cloth after every feeding to clean the teeth and gums.
  • Give your child a bottle or sippy cup filled with something other than water only during meals.
  • Teach your child to drink from a regular cup as soon as possible, preferably by 12 to 15 months of age.
  • If your child must have a bottle or sippy cup for long periods, fill it with water only.
  • Avoid feeding your child meals or snacks that are sticky, or high in sugar or starch.


Last Updated
Nutrition: What Every Parent Needs to Know (Copyright © American Academy of Pediatrics 2011)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.