Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Breastfeeding, Baby Teeth and Cavities

From Children's Dentistry of North Dallas
by Glenni Lorick, IBCLC

Yesterday a mom dropped by to nurse her 12 month old right after their first visit to a pediatric dentist. The mom was really happy that the dentist didn't discourage her from continuing to breastfeed, even at night. I was pleased to hear that, too, because many dentists do tell mothers to stop nursing at night as soon as the first tooth erupts.

"Breast milk by itself," according to the National Institute of Health, "is the healthiest food for babies' teeth. It tends to slow bacterial growth and acid production." According to Dr. Sears, most children get at least one cavity, so most night nursers will get at least one cavity. But you can't really blame it on breastfeeding because most children will get a cavity anyway.

Nevertheless, many dentists remain adamant in their insistence that nighttime nursing causing "nursing caries." This term is actually used to refer to either breastfeeding or bottle-feeding activities as they relate to tooth decay in babies. Dr. Brian Palmer, DDS did pioneering work in the area of breastfeeding and infant tooth decay. He practiced in Kansas City, but passed away too young in 2012. However, he left some incredible research for us !to see. He points out the fact that anthropologically we don't see evidence of tooth decay in infants. Obviously their only source of food was breastmilk. He also points out the fact that cavities are caused by bacteria in the mouth. Infants are born without any cavity-causing bacteria. At some point it gets introduced, whether by someone kissing them, or by a spoon or cup shared with a parent, or via a shared toy or perhaps in some other way.

Protect Those New Little Teeth!

So what CAN a mother do to protect her child's teeth if she is nursing at night?

  1. Restrict juices or other liquids. Be sure that baby's teeth have been brushed  or wiped clean after any juices or food and before bed.
  2. Clean baby's teeth in the morning using gauze or a toothbrush.
  3. Avoid giving baby any foods with high sugar content. 
  4. Don't share a spoon or cup with baby in order to avoid introducing the bacteria that causes cavities into her mouth. 
  5. Be sure to see a dentist around baby's first birthday. But unless you really have a baby who is already very prone to cavities, (already had 2 or 3) there is really no need for night weaning.

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