SINGAPORE - When she started going to bed with a bottle filled with milk or fruit juice, three-year-old Kaitlin's (not her real name) parents thought nothing of it.
It was only when the toddler started experiencing severe pain and swelling in the gum area near her front teeth that her parents decided to take her to the National Dental Centre (NDC).
She was diagnosed to be suffering from an aggressive and severe form of tooth decay known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC).
The disease typically affects the teeth of children aged below five. Parents with bad oral hygiene can also infect their kids when they share food with their children.
Dr Tan Wee Kiat, a senior consultant at the NDC's paediatric-dentistry unit, said she and her colleagues are now seeing more than double the number of cases, as compared to a decade ago.
"At that time, there were fewer than 500 cases a year, but now it's about 1,000 cases and more each year," she said.
The cause of the infection is usually prolonged exposure to milk or fruit juice, such as when a child is allowed to sleep while sucking on a bottle or receives on-demand breast-feeding.
These habits increase the chances of tooth decay, due to the acidity of such liquids.
Poor oral hygiene also plays a part, as "some parents do not brush their children's teeth until they are about three years old", said Dr Tan.
To prevent the onset of ECC, children should be weaned off the bottle by the time they are a year old, and bottles should never be left in a child's mouth for the child to suck on overnight.
The alarming thing is that most parents are unaware of the condition, and end up having to fork out between $1,000 and $3,000 for treatment, Dr Tan added.
She advised that children who have a habit of nursing a milk bottle overnight or have not had their teeth brushed regularly should be checked for signs of the infection.
"Some parents cry when I tell them the bad news (about their child's infection) because they know that the child is suffering due to the pain," she said.
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