One of the most common myths about breastfeeding, especially prolonged breastfeeding, is that it can cause cavities. Since the modern era has introduced formula as a common alternative to mother’s milk, many mothers believe that the same principles apply to both when it comes to their baby’s health.
Let’s discuss breastfeeding, formula and tooth decay, and finally, debunk some myths that are still circulating.
How Could Breast Milk Cause Cavities?
Often, toddlers can get cavities and demineralization, or even experience tooth loss because of extensive decay. Parents hear numerous possible theories about why that has happened, and incorrect theories often lead to improper treatment and unnecessary measures.
Bottle-feeding at night and not washing the baby’s teeth before bed can indeed lead to tooth decay and tooth loss, but exclusively breastfed babies can get cavities too. Unsurprisingly, many people believe that breast milk leads to cavities, although recent studies have shown no direct correlation between the two.
Breastfed babies are often nursing for more than food, ever since they are born: they nurse for comfort, security, to fall asleep easier, to bond with their mom. Sleeping is often tightly connected to breastfeeding, this is why some people (including dentists who are not up to date with recent research or with breastfeeding in general) believe that the horizontal position, combined with the sugars in the breast milk and not brushing the baby’s teeth after nursing lead to cavities.
Breastfeeding May Actually Protects the Child’s Teeth from Cavities
It is not hard to debunk the myths above once you understand how breastfeeding works. When nursing, a breastfed baby creates a vacuum in his mouth. A baby who is latching correctly will not have breast milk pooling in his mouth during breastfeeding, even if he is asleep.
So how are exclusively breastfed babies get cavities? The main cause is the bacteria called Streptococcus mutans, which uses sugar to produce acidic compounds that attack the enamel. This bacteria can be transmitted from the mother and other caregivers to the baby through contact with the saliva. Unless really careful, it is highly probable that contamination will occur.
This is why you should still clean your baby’s teeth thoroughly, even if you are not formula feeding them. Paying attention to their diet after weaning is also crucial, as sugar and its many forms hide in various foods, including ones considered healthy.
Even though breast milk contains sugar that can serve as food to the strep mutans, it also contains lactoferrin, which kills the bacteria.
In conclusion, if you are worried about your little one getting cavities, breastfeeding is not to be blamed. Be careful about the baby’s diet, your own dental health and a solid routine of brushing twice a day, starting with the very first baby tooth. And, of course, schedule routine visits with your St. Louis pediatric dentist.