Can Breastfeeding Cause Tooth Decay?Breastfeeding has many well documented effects on the health and growth of a child. Unless the mother suffers from a medical condition that makes breastfeeding impossible, she's encouraged to breastfeed her child. Breastfeeding is strongly recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). It contains high levels of immunity boosting chemicals and is less acidic. It is also believed that breastfeeding may have beneficial effect on the teeth of toddlers.
Recent studies however, have raised concerns about the effect of prolonged breast feeding on teeth. The studies have pointed out that prolonged breastfeeding may lead to Early Childhood Caries (ECC) which can cause life long dental problems. There are studies on the other hand, that do not establish any link between breastfeeding and tooth decay.
ECC, which appears in the form of brown and broken teeth well before the third birthday, can destroy teeth rapidly. ECC begins from the area on the back of the teeth and spreads rapidly from there.
So, is there any scientific evidence to link breast feeding and tooth decay? Let’s examine some of the reasons for tooth decay and whether breast feeding can really cause it.
- Tooth decay is caused by bacteria that turn foods into acids. These bacteria are acquired by children from their mother. But breast milk is not a good food for the bacteria to feed on.
- There are phases of ‘repair’ and ‘attack’ going on in the mouth. The higher the incidence of attacks, the greater the chance of decay. The chemical composition of breast milk is such, however, that there is less attack and more repair, which prevents tooth decay.
- Eating before bedtime or during the night can trigger tooth decay. Tooth decay is speeded up during the night as saliva production is lessened then. Any foods or drinks taken at night can speed up the decay process, and that includes breast milk.
- Children who eat and drink frequently are more prone to tooth decay. The food particles remain between the gaps of the teeth and lead to tooth decay. So, could that apply to a child who is breastfed regularly
Here are some guidelines that can provide a baby the benefit of breastfeeding without affecting the teeth.
- Clean the baby’s mouth and teeth with a soft cloth after breastfeeding.
- Take the baby to a pedodontist after the first tooth appears.
- The baby should learn to drink from a cup by the time he or she is one year old.
- The water that is used for drinking should contain fluoride. If not, a doctor can advise about fluoride supplements.
- Breastfeeding should be continued for one year as recommended by healthcare professionals.
- The sugar intake of a child should be limited.
- Good sleeping habits ensure that a baby doesn’t require breast milk to go to sleep. Don’t use breast milk as a pacifier at night. There could be other reasons why a baby cries and wakes up. Find these and address them.
- Don’t feed the baby for a long period.
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