There is a lot of debate in health circles whether breastfeeding causes cavities and tooth decay. Here, we try to throw light on the topic and put all your doubts to rest.
Breast milk is the most nutritious food for a baby. Breastfeeding is also advantageous to the mother, and helps her to get back to her pre-pregnancy weight faster, and also reduces the chances of breast and ovarian cancer. Breastfed babies are at a much lesser risk than formula-fed babies for obesity, illnesses, allergies, and heart diseases. Then how can something that is so highly nutritious and widely propagated cause cavities? The truth is, breastfeeding does not cause cavities.
How Breastfeeding Can Cause Cavities in Babies
A lot of women say that the doctor or pediatrician told them that their baby developed a cavity because he is being breastfed, and were advised against nighttime feeding. Babies, whether they are breastfed or bottle-fed can sometimes face the risk of tooth cavities. The reason behind it is: during nights, whenever you feed the baby, whether it’s formula or breast milk, it tends to pool inside the baby’s mouth. That’s because at night, the cleansing action of saliva is not optimal because supply of saliva diminishes at night. As a result, sugars from the milk cling to the baby’s teeth and gums, and along with the bacteria already present in the mouth, act together to form an acid, which can erode the delicate surface of a baby’s teeth, causing decay and cavities.
Prevention and Care of Tooth Decay in Babies
If you find that your baby is showing any sign of tooth decay and cavity, or if dental cavities run in your family, you can gradually reduce nighttime feedings. This does not mean completely stopping them. As soon as your baby grows his first tooth, you can very gradually decrease the frequency of feeding him at nights. Starting a good dental hygiene even before the baby’s first tooth emerges can prevent the formation of cavity.
After every feed, even at night, take a clean and very soft cloth, wet it, and gently rub it all over his gums. Or with a clean, wet finger, gently massage the gums and teeth (if any). As soon as the first tooth shows up, buy an infant toothbrush that has a very small head and extra-soft bristles. You can start using a toothpaste at a later stage, but continue to gently brush the baby’s teeth using plain water, at least twice a day.
If your baby has started solid food, include fruits and vegetables like strawberries, carrots, avocados, and plums. These are known to possess anti-cavity substances that will help in fighting tooth decay. Keep in mind that when you breastfeed, the baby’s mouth should not contain any solid food particles. Breast milk is sticky, which means it will adhere to the tiny food particles lodged in the mouth and that puts your baby at a great risk for cavity and decay. So the best practice would be to clean the baby’s mouth after every feed, be it solid foods or just milk, so you steer clear from dental problems.
Also make sure that you receive fluoridated water supply at home. Fluoride is an essential mineral that protects and fortifies tooth enamel and lessens the chances of acid and bacteria attacking and harming it.
Dental Benefits of Breastfeeding
When a baby is breastfed, it involves a well-coordinated movement of the tongue and facial muscles, which helps to shape the palate better. It also leads to a better alignment of the jaws, which can significantly lower the risks of snoring, disturbed sleep patterns, and sleep apnea. Breast milk also contains a protein, known by the name of lactoferrin, which exhibits antibacterial properties and resists the buildup of bacteria.
So I guess it’s amply clear that when it comes to cavities and tooth decay, breastfeeding is definitely not the culprit. Breastfeeding hardly has any disadvantages associated with it! In fact, babies must be breastfed, since it has numerous benefits and can actually keep disease-causing bacteria at bay. So for all those moms out there, there is no need to worry. Go right ahead and nurse your infants for as long as you wish.
All you need to do is follow a good dental hygiene even before your baby has started teething, and visit your child’s dentist or pediatrician regularly to check for any cavity you fear he might develop.