Have you heard that breastfeeding can cause tooth decay? Before breastfeeding moms start to worry, they should get the facts.
When the journal Pediatrics published results from a study that found a higher risk of cavities in babies who breastfeed beyond the first year of life, a storm of controversy erupted. This is actually an issue that has been debated for many years, but this new study has many parents worrying that their breastfeeding will set their babies up for tooth decay.
While there is credible research proving that bottle feeding can cause cavities in new baby teeth, the evidence that breastfeeding can cause i is not as credible and may be misleading. Remember, this only even applied to children OLDER than one year and still is no reason to stop breastfeeding.
So we encourage you to take a closer look at the issue and talk about what you can do to protect your baby’s teeth while providing the nourishment that can only come from your breast milk.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay & Breastfeeding
Baby bottle tooth decay is a term used to describe tooth decay caused by extended exposure to sugar. Many bottle-fed babies who are given a bottle just before bed suffer from this condition because that nighttime bottle coats their teeth with sugar-filled formula. It can also occur when a baby is given juice and the sugars aren’t wiped from the teeth immediately afterwards.
However, there has not been a valid link made between breastfeeding (before bed, during the night or otherwise) and cavities. However, because breastfed babies can still get cavities like anyone else, good dental care and hygiene should be started early!
In fact, two dentists, Dr. Brian Palmer and Dr. Harold Torne, did research (you can read it here) on human skulls to study tooth decay in children. The skulls were hundreds of years old and from times when almost all children were breastfed, probably for an extended length of time. Their research concluded that breastfeeding does not cause tooth decay.
Why Do Some Say Nighttime Feedings Cause Cavities?
The La Leche League has gone to great lengths to have professionals go over the research suggesting that nighttime breastfeeding causes cavities, and they have found that most of the studies are unreliable.
For instance, some studies included babies who were bottle and breastfed but counted them as breastfed babies. The inclusion of bottle feeding increases the risk of baby bottle tooth decay, so those babies are at higher risk than a strictly breastfed baby. The inclusion of bottle-fed babies as breastfed babies complicates the results.
For the studies that did seem trustworthy, researchers still failed to consider other potential causes for increased risk of cavities. For instance, the amount of fluoride in the water fed to a baby can make a difference but wasn’t considered in the studies.
This doesn’t prove that breastfed babies WON’T get cavities. What it does is break down the research so that parents understand this isn’t a major crisis that should stop them from breastfeeding. It’s more important that parents educate themselves on what they can do to care for their baby’s teeth starting from birth and practice good dental care right away.
Basic Baby Dental Care
The American Dental Association suggests that baby dental care starts right after birth. They recommend gently wiping your baby’s gums with a soft wet washcloth or piece of gauze. This will keep the gums clean while getting your baby used to the process of brushing the gums and eventually the teeth.
The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that you should wipe your baby’s new teeth with a wet cloth or gauze, but they add that you should introduce the toothbrush by the age of two. Many mothers continue to breastfeed beyond the age of two, but it’s still important to transition to more advanced skills like independent teeth brushing at least once a day. It’s generally recommended that children brush twice a day.
Start with a small amount of kid’s toothpaste, and make sure that your child understands not to swallow the toothpaste. Supervision is required to ensure that your child gets all of the plaque off of the teeth.
Get to the Dentist Early
Your child’s first dental visit should occur around their first birthday or whenever they get their first tooth. Many parents don’t realize that baby teeth are worthy of examination, so they make the mistake of waiting until their child’s permanent teeth start coming in or until they see signs of decay or other problems. Do your child a favor and start with the very first tooth.
Should You Stop Breastfeeding at Night Just in Case?
Professionals like Dr. Sears have openly discouraged parents from cutting back their breastfeeding habits in order to avoid cavities. The benefits for the baby are just too powerful, and those are scientifically proven with no doubt. Besides, for most moms and little ones this is the LAST feeding we want to drop!
As long as the following criteria apply to you, there is no need to stop breastfeeding right before bed for the sole purpose of preventing cavities:
- You take precautions to protect your baby’s gums and teeth as discussed earlier in this guide. You take dental care seriously and will teach your baby from a young age to brush, floss, and follow advice given by his or her dentist.
- Your child isn’t currently showing signs of early tooth decay and isn’t otherwise believed to be at higher risk of decay. Once you see signs of a potential problem, you should see a dentist and take every precaution possible to prevent a larger problem.
No matter what you decide, keep in mind that switching from the breast to a bottle at night doesn’t solve the problem and may actually increase the risk for your baby’s teeth.
Ultimately, the decision to breastfeed before bed is a parenting decision that every woman must make but be sure that you are not making in based on science that has not been proven. With good tooth and gum care, breastfed babies are still less likely to have an issue with cavities than their formula-fed peers. So we say, nurse on mama!
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