Bacteria ‘eat’ carbohydrate, in particular sugars and starches in the diet. The waste product from the bacteria is acid. It is the frequency of eating carbohydrate, not only the quantity, that influences whether your child gets tooth decay.
For example, a child using a sippy cup or bottle may consume sweetened liquids many times per day. In general, more than 3 snacks of sugars / cooked starch / sugared drinks will increase risk of tooth decay.
Carbohydrates involved in tooth decay
The main carbohydrate that causes tooth decay is sucrose (white sugar, brown sugar, syrup, icing sugar etc). However, bacteria can also metabolise fructose (found in fruit and honey), lactose (found in milk) and starch.
Starch (bread, biscuits, chips, rice crackers, cakes, muffins, slices) can also contribute. Snack foods such as dried fruit, muesli bars, fruit sticks, fruit bars and fruit straps ups are also not safe for teeth.
A child who drinks continuously from a bottle containing anything other than water is increasing risk. For this reason, we recommend stopping the bottle at 12 months. By this time, your child can drink from a cup. Never put juice or other sweetened liquids in the bottle and never put a baby to sleep with a bottle.
Most baby formulas contain sugar.
A child who sleeps with a bottle is at very high risk of decay.
There are many reasons for breast feeding, and breast milk alone will not cause tooth decay. However, ‘at will’ breast feeding after the introduction of other dietary sugars is potentially increasing risk. This gets back to the frequency of carbohydrate. More than 3 main meals and 2 snacks per day is increasing risk. So in this example, if a child is eating 3 main meals and 2 snacks as well as breast or bottle feeding one or more times per day, then the number of carbohydrate exposures can be multiple.
Breast or bottle feeding just before bed or nap time can be particularly damaging as protective saliva flow is very low during sleep. This is why it is so important that the last thing that should touch a child’s teeth before bed is a toothbrush with a smear of baby toothpaste.