Dental News


Dr.'s Q&A

Feb 1999

Ivanhoe Broadcast News Interview Transcript with Robert Musselman, D.D.S., Pediatric Dentist, Louisiana State University School of Dentistry, New Orleans

How common is baby bottle tooth decay?

Dr. Mussleman: We don’t have an exact figure on that. Estimates are as high as 40 percent in some concentrated populations where they have a real problem with decay. On the average, 10 percent would be the best figure. One out of 10 children have baby bottle tooth decay.

What causes this?

Dr. Mussleman: Generally putting a child to sleep with a bottle that contains any kind of juice. Originally it was milk, but any juice that you put in there will cause teeth to decay as well. The concept here is that when you put a child to sleep, you get a reduction in salivary flow. The liquid pools behind the upper front teeth, and then all night or as long the child is sleeping that area is where the decay starts.

Is it the sugar in the formula or the juice?

Dr. Mussleman: Exactly. It is the sugar that’s the critical factor here with the bacteria present in all children’s mouth.

Tell me a little bit about the bacteria that is found in the mouth.

Dr. Mussleman: It’s a bacteria that doesn’t appear in the mouth until after the teeth start to erupt. Interestingly, the latest research in that area would indicate that the source of that bacteria is probably from the mother testing food to make sure that it is safe or not too hot. At that point, they spread the bacteria, which most adults have in their mouth, to the child.

So what do you recommend in placement of mothers testing the child’s food?

Dr. Mussleman: Don’t test with the same spoon that you put in the child’s mouth. Test to see that the food is the right temperature, and then put that aside and use a different utensil to feed the children.

Can you give me a quick shopping list of what parents need to be watching out for to prevent tooth decay?

Dr. Mussleman: Try to get the child to drink out of cup rather than take a baby bottle to bed with them at night. No child needs to take a baby bottle after they’re one year of age, and that’s really the important thing. Then as we mentioned, make sure the mother doesn’t colonize the child with a decay-causing bacteria by testing food and in effect introducing the bacteria to the child. Those would be the most important things. In addition, if a mother has any questions and concerns about her child’s teeth, she should take the child to see a dentist. Keep in mind that baby bottle tooth decay starts on the back side of the upper teeth. That’s where the milk pools. So a parent looks at the child’s teeth, and they look pretty good to them, but if you look behind them you will see the teeth are quite seriously destroyed even though they look fine when you just look in the child’s mouth. So professional help would be good there, too.