Rotten Teeth In Infants Is Caused By Sugar


Many children are losing their milk teeth at an early age due to tooth decay brought on by too much sugar in their diet.

Some have rotten milk teeth and back molars that have holes and need filling, while others have their rotten teeth extracted long before it’s time for permanent teeth to grow.

Bonolo’s front milk teeth were extracted when she was five years old. Her mother, Dineo, said she realised when her daughter was a year and five months old that her teeth were changing colour but assumed this was from dirt on her bottle from when her daughter dropped it and picked it up again.

But over time, the milk teeth became darker, smaller and thinner while the molars had holes in them. Dineo decided to have those rotten milk teeth extracted as her daughter’s confidence had taken a knock.

“She would come back from creche and say the other children were teasing her, saying her teeth were rotten.”

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Dr Joel Chernick, a dentist who has been practising for 35 years, said cases of children with rotten milk teeth have been steadily increasing over the years. These days, they are 15 to 20 percent of his cases.

Chernick said the biggest problem was that whatever children are fed in their bottles has a lot of sugar, and parents let them go to sleep with the bottles in their mouths. Milk teeth have thinner enamel than permanent ones, so the acid easily erodes them.

“Saliva is a natural buffer against acids. However, when people are sleeping they don’t have the natural saliva flow, so the sugars don’t get dissolved away or neutralised. To prevent tooth decay, parents must make sure that children only have a minimum amount of sugar in their food or bottle and also buy fluoride tablets or drops which they can give to them from the age of two,” said Chernick.

“The fluoride will get incorporated into the blood system, and as teeth get formed, they are resistant to acid.” Chernick said it was up to the parents to decide whether to extract their children’s rotten teeth, but it would be best to leave the back molars to stay in the mouth because they ensure the space for new teeth to grow.

Matshwene Monyamane, a dietitian who specialises in infant nutrition, said the biggest problem was giving children juice and tea at an early age. She also pointed even foods like yoghurt should not be given until a child is two years old.

Whatever sugar a child will get should be from eating fruit. She said parents must always clean their children’s mouth and teeth with cottonwool and water after formula feeding. “The truth is that if children do not have an underlying illness that causes their teeth to rot, it is because the parents are feeding them the wrong food,” she said.

Another dentist, Dr Papi Diale, said the problem could be affected by socio-economic factors, saying a certain economic status would enable parents to hire child minders, who would let the child become dependent on the bottle.

“However, active participation of parents in cleaning of their children’s teeth and feeding them the right food is important,” he said.

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