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Breastfeeding & Tooth Decay: Does it Cause it or Prevent it?

By: Jessica M. Lang, Holistic Health Practitioner

Well, my husband and older son just walked out the door, headed to the dentist.  My 3.5 year old has 2 cavities behind his two front teeth!  flabbergasted when I learned that my little guy was going to need dental work ALREADY, I assumed that it was because we weren't doing a good job brushing his teeth, or could it be those gummy worms we gave him when he was potty training or could he just have my genes when it comes to teeth?  The thought loomed large over my head, what did I do wrong.  We were referred to a pediatric dentist, they have a gentler approach and specialize in those baby teeth with very little enamel. The dentist walked into the examining room on friday, where I sat nursing my baby and nervously biting my nails awaiting the x-ray results, we shake hands and get down to business.  He says that my son is a model patient (nice!) and that he is very co-operative (nice...why doesn't he do that at home?) but due to his age he would have to be sedated in order to fill his teeth and not traumatize him.  Yikes, I don't like the sound of drugging my son, but at the same time the alternative is way worse. 

The appointment was coming to a close and I asked him when I should bring my younger son in for a check-up, now that he has 4 teeth of his own.  In a very non-accusatory way he mentioned that by age 13 months I should be brushing my baby's teeth before bed and then not giving him anything but water until morning time.   WHAT?!...then my world seemed to crash down a little bit and all I could think was ?...could it be my older son's extended nursing...all day, all night until he was 23 months that lead him to tooth decay?  I didn't even want to consider the possibility.  I didn't want to let myself believe that something so amazing like breastmilk could cause damage to my young sons teeth.  So of course, I get online and start researching, hoping to prevent this from happening to the baby.

Researchers from the University of Athens surveyed 260 children between the ages of 3 and 5 living in Greece.  The children were divided into two groups - children with multiple cavities and children with few or no cavities.

Children that were breastfed for more than 40 days were less likely to develop cavities than those who were breastfed for a shorter time, the researchers found.  Because of that, the researchers suggest that breastmilk may contain antibodies that inhibit the bacteria that causes tooth decay.

...leading the researchers to suggest that there may be a genetic factor linked to the risk of tooth decay.

Phew!  Literally, every study, organization and leading website that I found, indicated that breastfeeding does not lead to tooth decay, but will ultimately provide your child with anti-bodies to ward off bacteria and dental caries (a disorder involving infant/childhood tooth decay).  Most likely, sugar, juice and genetics are what caused my poor son to have to  undergo a dental procedure before he can even write his own name.  I'm guessing that in my son's case that genes (and gummy worms) played a major factor in need for fillings.  For the first time in my life, I will proudly say that I am a person who was NOT breastfed and I have a mouth full of fillings and crowns!

I will no longer worry that I have not given my child the best start possible in life, with unlimited breastfeeding.  I will do the same with my baby.  What I will change, however is the method in which I potty train my kids!  Maybe they will receive a small toy instead of a piece of candy.  I will brush my kids teeth twice a day as instructed, but I will happily nurse them to sleep as long as that is what they need from me.


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