- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2001

One of the worst contributors to children's tooth decay could be the most easily avoided if more parents would remove the bottle from baby's bed at night, says Dr. George Acs, chairman of dentistry at Children's National Medical Center.

Many parents let young children fall asleep drinking a bottle of juice. The juice pools around the child's teeth, giving plaque bacteria the chance to produce acids that cause tooth decay, Dr. Acs says.

Doing this night after night causes a rampant and severe form of decay, he says.

"It is really awful when you see some of these kids with baby-bottle tooth decay," he says. "Milk is nowhere near as bad as juice. It takes longer to break down the tooth. But if I had to choose, I would choose water or nothing."

There is something of a risk to oral health in letting children fall asleep after drinking anything but water, Dr. Acs says. Formula and breast milk also contribute, albeit a lesser amount, to tooth decay.

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends wiping a baby's gums with a damp washcloth after every feeding to remove plaque. The organization also endorses weaning a child from the bottle by his or her first birthday.

Even if those nighttime recommendations are followed, too many people are setting their children up for poor dental health by exposing them to sugary drinks in the first place, says Dr. Mary Hayes, a Chicago pediatric dentist and spokeswoman for the ADA.

"What children are drinking just boggles the mind," she says. "I saw a woman yesterday with a 3-year-old who had three obvious cavities. When we discussed diet, she said her children have, in the course of a day, three cups of juice, one cup of Gatorade, one cup of water and no milk. Children have to start drinking water when they are young."

Many parents dilute juice with water to cut down the amount of sugar. In the long run, parents aren't doing children any favors when they do that, Dr. Hayes says.

"We are basically training our children to drink sweetened water," she says. "Then they turn into teen-agers and move on to soft drinks. The average teen-age boy drinks 3 1/2 cans a day; the average girl drinks 2 1/2 cans a day."

In addition to banning juice bottles from the crib or bed, Dr. Hayes advises limiting children's juice consumption to 6 to 8 ounces daily.

"I realize there are kids who are going to have more juice than that," she says. "But if they know it is going to set them up for oral health issues, then they have to do the flip side and brush their teeth more often."


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