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News / January 29, 2008

Infant tooth decay sparks warning

by Guy Hiscott

Dentists are warning parents about giving children soft drinks or fruit juices in their baby bottles over fears about infants needing dental surgery.

The warning was prompted after a report found that nearly half of infants under five years in some parts of Ireland have decayed teeth.

The Irish Dental Association (IDA) said it is concerned by the number of young children having to get surgery under general anaesthetic because of the problem.

Dr Bridget Harrington-Barry, president of the Public Dental Surgeons Group of the IDA, said: ‘Many parents do not realise that their child’s teeth are susceptible to decay as soon as they begin to emerge, or that certain feeding practices can put their child’s new teeth at risk.

‘Sugar-containing drinks, and that includes natural fruit juices, have the greatest potential to cause decay.’

The condition, often referred to as baby bottle tooth decay, is preventable if parents monitor the children’s feeding habits, however, treatment can be difficult and costly.

It is not only important to control the contents of a baby’s bottle but also the length of time the infant’s teeth are exposed to the drink. The IDA advises giving water or milk to children between meals, and diluting any sugary drinks, including natural fruit juices, for consumption from a cup only when eating.

The last North South Survey of Children’s Oral Health found 47 per cent of children aged five from non-fluoridated areas across Ireland had one or more cavities. Three out of 10 children of the same age from fluoridated areas had tooth decay.

A study by the World Health Organisation claimed Ireland was among the worst of 35 countries for child and adolescent consumption of soft drinks and sweets.