Can Breastfeeding Cause Tooth Decay?

The Dentists at All Smiles Assure Us; This Is Not The Case

Fables and misconceptions have always run rampant, sometimes even running  as fast as a wildfire through dry brush. The problem has gotten worse in the last few years, especially now that we have the Internet. The worst part is that most of these old wives tales contain  just a smidgeon of truth, just enough to make people who read them actually believe them. It is this partial truth that turns these beliefs into a fact (at least for many people.) One such, half-truth is the idea that breastfeeding, particularly while lying down at night, causes tooth decay in infants.To debunk this idea we have enlisted the help of our associates at All Smiles Dental.


All Smiles Says the Problem is the Baby Bottle

While it is certainly true that giving a baby a bottle of formula at night can cause baby bottle mouth and eventually cavities, there is no real valid link between breastfeeding (at any time) and cavities. Sure, breastfed babies can get cavities, but this is not a consequence of being fed mother’s milk. Even so, good dental hygiene is important.

Before we became accustomed to using a baby bottle, dental decay in baby teeth was rare. This may be indicative that breast milk does not cause cavities or tooth decay in children.

All Smiles Dental Group says that a primary reason for this excessive tooth decay in infants, is that bottles filled with formula can cause liquid pooling in the baby’s mouth. Formula or juice in baby bottle tends to bathe the baby’s teeth for long periods of time, whereas breast milk does not pool in the baby’s mouth in the same way as bottled milk. Mother’s milk doesn’t flow unless the baby is actively sucking. Also, milk from the breast enters the baby’s mouth behind the teeth. If the baby is actively sucking then he is also swallowing, so pooling breastmilk in the baby’s mouth is not an issue.


Bacteria Is The Problem

All Smiles dental group told us that it is the bacteria that causes the problem. Bacteria called Streptococcus mutans is the primary cause of tooth decay. These bacteria eat sugar, starches and carbohydrates, and then they produce an acid byproduct, which directly causes tooth cavities. Strep mutans love the combination of sugar paired with a low amount of saliva and a low ph-level in the saliva.

Parents can minimize decay by cleaning the baby’s mouth out with a soft, clean cloth. Avoid placing unclean fingers in your child’s mouth, and refrain from kissing your child directly on the mouth. Note that sharing foods like ice, ice cream, fruit and any other food can also increase your child’s risk of acquiring the bacteria even before he gets his first teeth.

Your baby can get this bacteria through saliva to saliva contact from mother (or other caregiver) to baby. To help prevent transfer of this bacteria to baby, avoid any saliva to saliva contact such as sharing spoons & cups, wet kisses on the mouth, chewing food for baby, or putting baby’s pacifier in your mouth.

In Conclusion, we learned from All Smiles that human milk alone does not cause dental caries. However, infants exclusively breastfed are not immune to decay due to other factors that impact the infant’s risk for tooth decay. Babies get this bad bacteria from parents or caregivers who are not careful with sharing food, kisses and tools from mouth to mouth.  The best way to protect your infant is to take him to a first dental visit just as soon as the first teeth erupt. This is at the age of about 7 to 10 months.


Bottom Line

Extensive research indicates that it’s the other foods in a baby’s diet (rather than breast milk) that tend to be the main problem when it comes to tooth decay. Studies indicate that breast milk is similar to water and so does not cause tooth decay – another experiment even indicated that the teeth became stronger when immersed in breast milk. However, if a small amount of sugar was added to the breast milk, the mixture was worse at causing tooth decay.