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Ask an Expert: Breastfeeding and Dental Cavities

By Wendy Wisner, IBCLC

***Ask an Expert is a blog feature hosted by a team of International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs). Once a month each IBCLC randomly chooses a question from The Badass Breastfeeder Facebook wall and provides their response on the blog.

Fan Question:

“I have a question. My 11 month daughter has a brown speck on one of her front teeth. I have been doing some research and it may be a cavity caused by night nursing. Has anyone had this problem? I’m taking her to the dentist tomorrow I’m just curious if this happens often. Thanks!”
I’m glad you’re taking your baby to a dentist to get a proper diagnosis.  Stains on teeth can be caused by any number of things.  I hope it’s not a cavity!

If it is a cavity, the first thing to do is to make sure you have a breastfeeding-friendly dentist.  Unfortunately, many dentists believe that breastfeeding causes cavities, and recommend prompt weaning, especially at night.  But cavities should not mean automatic nightweaning.  If your dentist does not support your continuation of breastfeeding, ask your local breastfeeding support group for a dentist recommendation.

Breastfeeding in and of itself does not cause cavities.  First, unlike bottle feeding, breastmilk does not pool in a baby’s mouth all night.  Breastmilk only flows when a baby is actively sucking (and swallowing).  Breastmilk actually contains anti-cavity agents like lactoferrin, which kills the bacteria that causes cavities.  I have helped many older babies and toddler breastfeeding and the vast majority do not get cavities.

But under certain conditions and with other risk factors present, breastfeeding can contribute to the formation of cavities.  It is theorized that certain children are born with vulnerable tooth enamel.  Cavities are caused by the bacteria Strep mutans, so early exposure to these bacteria (usually when sharing utensils with a caregiver) can also increase the risk.  Studies have shown that breastmilk alone is similar to water, and does not cause decay.  However, when mixed with solid food, breastmilk becomes cariogenic (cavity causing).

So it is important to keep your baby’s teeth clean once he or she starts eating solids.  If your daughter does have decay, you will need to be vigilant about cleaning her teeth before she nurses to sleep (for night and naps).

Topical fluoride treatments can halt the decay.  Xylitol paste helps stop the growth of cavity-causing bacteria.  And there are other, more holistic treatments that are worth investigating.  Cavities can be halted, and breastfeeding can continue as normal.

Here is a great, thorough article about breastfeeding and tooth decay: http://kellymom.com/health/baby-health/tooth-decay/

And here is my personal account of nursing a toddler who had cavities: http://www.lalecheleague.org/nb/nbiss1-10p20.html

unnamedWendy Wisner is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), writer, and mother of two amazing boys.  In addition to her work with breastfeeding moms, she has published two books of poems, and a handful of articles about mothering and breastfeeding.  She blogs at www.nursememama.com.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the post. FYI, carcinogenic means “cancer causing.” You may want to edit that.

  2. Just wanted to let you know of a typo. Carcinogenic is not the word you meant to use. I’m sure 😉

  3. The word she meant to use is Cariogenic (cavity-causing).

  4. Thank you! This is my article and I definitely meant cariogenic! I do believe spell check messed that one up for me. Thank you for the head’s up and sorry for any confusion! It will be fixed.

  5. An expert gives advice which is contrary to my non expert advice. They must be wrong and I must be right.

  6. What is the name of the xylitol gel you recommend in your other article? I have a 2.5 year old with cavities spreading over his top 4 teeth at an alarming rate. I’m desperately trying to halt them. I’ve been using fluoride toothpaste and a xylitol toothpaste trying to limit sugar but they seem to keep spreading! I haven’t yet night weaned him and he’s so dependent on it. He’s very shy and nervous child and i hate to take away what comforts him the most. The thought of him going the next 4 years without 4 front teeth is heartbreaking as he has the sweetest smile. I’ve spent the last 2 months frantically researching. Our dentist doesn’t think there’s much we can do as the teeth are too small and he’s too skittish to sit through drilling and fillings. Your is the first article I’ve read that has given me any hope.

  7. I just want to say good job to all the breastfeeding moms out there! And thanks to all the moms for sharing their stories. Its very soothing to know i’m not the only one going through certain things.

    There is so many things that’s said that can convince any woman not to breastfeed. I personally believe that we were made to breastfeed and that our bodies are made in such a way that it would not negatively affect us or our babies! It doesn’t make sense that breast milk will cause tooth decay! Why would we have boobs then? Anyway here is a very interesting article on tooth decay and breastfeeding.

    http://www.breastfeeding-problems.com/breastfeeding-and-tooth-decay.html

  8. Hi! Thanks for the article. We first noticed a little brown spot on my son’s teeth at 15 months, and it was a cavity. We’ve brushed to try to stop it, but to no avail it has gotten worse. He is 26 months now, and the dentist recommends IV sedation since he is fussy and cried in the seat. Anyone have experience with IV sedation at such a young age? Thank you in advance.

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