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Tooth decay from night nursing.

Posted by on Nov. 18, 2011 at 1:58 AM
  • 8 Replies
My poor baby! He hit his mouth on the entertainment center and chipped a tooth (he has 6), so we took him into the dentist as soon as they could see him. Four FOUR of his teeth need to be capped. The oral surgeon, who happens to still be nursing her toddler, so is VERY pro bf says it is partially genetics, and partially from night nursing.
We brush his teeth morning and night, and the decay was on the back of his teeth, so we didn't notice it..
He generally nurses pretty consistently throughout the night, but unless we plan to wean him, (which is not happening, neither of us are ready,) he has to be brushed after every night feeding.
This is rough. The brushing wakes him, and he wants to nurse back to sleep.

I feel like the worlds worst mama right now :(
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by on Nov. 18, 2011 at 1:58 AM
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by Gold Member on Nov. 18, 2011 at 2:29 AM

Breastmilk and night nursing don't cause tooth decay. There are many studies that pove that. It's either genetics or the other stuff he is eating. Juice and sweets are the hardest on teeth. I am sorry your son's got issues with his teeth! I went through that with my daughter(she was formula fed though) because she was on alot of antibiotics and strong antibiotics for most her first year of life! Your not a bad mom, it's just one of those things!

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by on Nov. 18, 2011 at 2:30 AM
1 mom liked this
I agree

Quoting jjchick75:

Breastmilk and night nursing doesn't cause tooth decay. There are many studies that pove that. It's either genetics or the other stuff he is eating.

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by Gina on Nov. 18, 2011 at 2:38 AM

Google Brian Palmer, DDS. He's got lots to say about night nursing... and the first thing is that your dentist is incorrec.t Night nursing actually protects from dental caries. NOT nursing would have made him MORE prone to them.

by on Nov. 18, 2011 at 2:49 AM
I will check him out, for sure!

I'm sure it's not his diet, we are artificial sweetener, gluten free vegans...

I just feel so bad for him!
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by on Nov. 18, 2011 at 1:37 PM

 Any carbs plus saliva can cause decay.  Also, sharing saliva (kissing baby on the mouth, sharing utensils, 'cleaning' the paci by popping it in your mouth) can colonize baby's mouth with bacteria from your mouth which can also lead to decay.  Sorry your little guy is going through this. 

Quoting P.N._Guin:

I will check him out, for sure!

I'm sure it's not his diet, we are artificial sweetener, gluten free vegans...

I just feel so bad for him!


by on Nov. 18, 2011 at 1:44 PM
Has he had antibiotics at all? My oldest had antibiotics A LOT and had to have a lot of her teeth capped later on. (and she sttn from 6 weeks and was weaned at one!) My 3 year old nursed like crazy at night the first 2 years, and he has zero cavities so far. (also hasn't had any antibiotics)
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by on Nov. 18, 2011 at 1:51 PM
My ds has tooth decay on his front teeth, he is almost 2. His dentist appointment is next month but I know they are going to want to cap them. I do not believe its from bfing as my 9 yr old nephew went through the same exact thing and never had bm...ever
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by on Nov. 18, 2011 at 4:55 PM

Is Breastfeeding Linked to Tooth Decay?

By Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC

It's often said that breastfeeding (particularly while lying down at night) will cause tooth decay, just like letting a baby sleep with a bottle of milk can cause "baby bottle mouth." Essentially, a valid link has not been made between nursing (nighttime or otherwise) and cavities.

Before the use of the baby bottle, dental decay in baby teeth was rare. Two dentists, Dr. Brian Palmer and Dr. Harold Torney, have done extensive research on human skulls (from 500-1000 years ago) in their study of tooth decay in children. Of course these children were breastfed, probably for an extended length of time. Their research has led them to conclude that breastfeeding does not cause tooth decay.

One of the reasons for nighttime bottles causing tooth decay is the pooling of the liquid in baby's mouth (where the milk/juice bathes baby's teeth for long periods of time). Breastmilk is not thought to pool in the baby's mouth in the same way as bottled milk because the 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 breast milk in the baby's mouth appears not to be an issue.

A bacteria (present in plaque) called strep mutans is the cause of tooth decay. These bacteria use food sugars to produce acid - this acid directly causes the decay. Strep mutans thrives in a combination of sugars, low amounts of saliva and a low ph-level in the saliva. A portion of the population (around 20%) is thought to have increased levels of this high acid producing bacteria, putting them at higher risk for developing dental decay. After your baby gets teeth, he 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. On the other hand, one study indicates that children of moms with high levels of strep mutans may actually have some protection (immunization) from decay through frequent saliva to saliva contact in the months before baby's teeth erupt.

Per Brian Palmer, "Human milk alone does not cause dental caries. Infants exclusively breastfed are not immune to decay due to other factors that impact the infant's risk for tooth decay. Decay causing bacteria (streptococcus mutans) is transmitted to the infant by way of parents, caregivers, and others" (Palmer 2002).

Up until recently, the only studies that had been done were on the effects of lactose (milk sugar, which breastmilk does contain) on teeth, not the effects of *complete* breastmilk with all its components. Breastmilk also contains lactoferrin, a component in breastmilk that actually kills strep mutans (the bacteria that causes tooth decay). According to a recent article in the March/April 1999 issue of Pediatric Dentistry, "It is concluded that human breast milk is not cariogenic." This study utilized extracted teeth to obtain most of its results and studied children only for determining the pH changes in dental plaque (Erickson 1999). A Finnish study could not find any correlation between caries and breastfeeding among children who were breastfed longer (up to 34 months) (Alaluusua 1990). Valaitis et al concluded, "In a systematic review of the research on early childhood caries, methodology, variables, definitions, and risk factors have not been consistently evaluated. There is not a constant or strong relationship between breastfeeding and the development of dental caries. There is no right time to stop breastfeeding, and mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed as long as they wish." (Valaitis 2000).

In a study done by Dr. Torney, no correlation was found between early onset (< 2 yrs) dental caries and breastfeeding patterns such as frequent night feeds, feeding to sleep, etc. He is convinced that under normal circumstances, the antibodies in breastmilk counteract the bacteria in the mouth that cause decay. However, if there are small defects in the enamel, the teeth become more vulnerable and the protective effect of breastmilk is not enough to counteract the combined effect of the bacteria and the sugars in the milk. Enamel defects occur when the first teeth are forming in utero. His explanation is based on quite a large study of long-term breastfed children with and without caries.

According to this research, a baby who is exclusively breastfed (no supplemental bottles, juice, or solids) will not have decay unless he is genetically predisposed, i.e.. soft or no enamel. In a baby who does have a genetic problem, weaning will not slow down the rate of decay and may speed it up due to lack of lactoferrin.

Much research indicates that it's the other foods in baby's diet (rather than breastmilk) that tend to be the main problem when it comes to tooth decay. The 1999 Erickson study (in which healthy teeth were immersed in different solutions) indicated that breastmilk alone was practically identical to water and did not cause tooth decay - another experiment even indicated that the teeth became stronger when immersed in breastmilk. However, when a small amount of sugar was added to the breastmilk, the mixture was worse than a sugar solution when it came to causing tooth decay. This study emphasizes the importance of tooth brushing and good dental hygiene.

A study by Dr. Norman Tinanoff showed that breastmilk in itself does not give rise to cavities as much as was previously thought. Dr. Tinanoff believes that the milk proteins in breastmilk protect the enamel on the teeth, and that the antibacterial qualities in breastmilk stop the bacteria from using the lactose in breastmilk in the same way as regular sugar. This dentist also showed that 5 minutes of breastfeeding lowered the pH-level only slightly more than rinsing the mouth with a little water.

Once your baby gets teeth, it's a good idea to brush your child's teeth twice daily and perhaps give him a sip of water after meals to wash food particles away. Also, don't allow baby to carry a cup or a bottle around during the day. This results in a constant "bathing" of baby's teeth with whatever he's drinking. Decay is directly related to the amount of contact time of a sugary substance with the teeth. Avoid too many sugary, sticky foods as well, and talk to your dentist about the amount of fluoride in your drinking water. You can read more about fluoride supplements for babies here: Does My Baby Need Vitamins?

Page last modified: 10/10/2005 
Written: 12/8/1998

Links to additional information

Infant Dental Decay - Is it related to Breastfeeding? by Brian Palmer, DDS These are the notes for one of Dr. Palmer's slide presentations. The slides (as a webpage) are locatedhere.

Breastfeeding and Infant Caries: No Connection by Brian Palmer, DDS Published in: ABM NEWS and VIEWS, The Newsletter of The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, 2000, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Dec), p27 & 31.

Avoiding Dental Caries by Joylyn Fowler, from New Beginnings, Vol. 19 No. 5, September-October 2002, p. 164- 169

Big Bad Cavities: Breastfeeding Is Not the Cause by Lisa Reagan, from Mothering Issue 113, July/August 2002

Very Young Kids Teeth - Yahoo email group for parents to share experience and information about dealing with issues with their young children's teeth and dental health. (Mainly ages 0 to 6 years - the preschool years).

Breastfeeding & Dental Caries from the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI) /IBFAN South Asia

The Sweet Tooth Truth: Does Breastfeeding Cause Cavities? by Gwen Morrison

LLL information on Breastfeeding and Dental Health

Tooth decay and breastfeeding by Debbi Donovan, IBCLC. From the ParentsPlace "Ask the Lactation Consultant" series.

Childhood Caries and Breastfeeding by Lisa Reagan

Extended Breastfeeding Non-Risk #2: Dental Caries by Linda J. Smith, BSE, FACCE, IBCLC.

Dental Caries by Kathryn Orlinsky, Ph.D.

Breastfeeding and Dental Health by Nancy E. Wight MD, FAAP, IBCLC

Dental Archives at the message boards. The moderator of the dental forum (Smilemomma) is a breastfeeding mom and a practicing dentist.

Breastfeeding May Help Prevent Tooth Decay from

Breastfeeding and Dental Health by Janna L. Cataldo, MD

Streptococcus mutans, Early Childhood Caries and New Opportunities by Harold C. Slavkin, DDS

There is also a section on this subject in the latest edition of Mothering Your Nursing Toddler (Revised ed.) by Norma Jean Bumgarner (La Leche League, 2000), pp. 41-48.

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