There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding breastfeeding, especially regarding extended nursing. All of this confusion and misinformation can cause new moms to be unsure of how nursing could be impacting their little one’s oral health. Many believe that allow a baby or toddler to breastfeed for too long can lead to tooth decay, similar to “baby bottle tooth decay” in formula fed babies. However, this assumption has never been proven to be factual.
All children can be susceptible to contracting cavities; however, nursing is usually not the main proponent. In fact, before the bottle was introduced, cavities and dental decay in children were extremely rare. However, breast milk does contain natural sugar, so it is important to begin caring for your child’s oral health as soon teeth come in.
Streptococcus Mutans and Cavities
Streptococcus mutans, a bacteria known to be the primary cause of tooth decay, uses sugars found in food to produce acid. This acid contacts teeth and begins the decaying process.
Dr. Brian Palmer, a dentist, stated, “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).
A study conducted by Dr. Torney in 1992 also discovered that there was no correlation between cavities found in patients under the age of two and baby’s nursing patterns, such as frequent night nursing and nursing to sleep. The study also states Torney’s belief that breast milk bacteria actually assists in defeating decay-inducing bacteria. However, he also said that this does not make exclusively breastfed babies immune to cavities, as small enamel defects can cause teeth to become too far gone, and not even breast milk can save them.
In 2015, a study was performed in exclusively-breastfed infants for six months by Pediatrics. This study found that these children were 72% less likely to have crooked teeth, along with a lower chance of having an open bite, cross-bite, and/or overbite than formula fed babies.
This proves that if your breastfed toddler has crooked teeth, a cross-bite, etc., the cause is highly likely to not be from nursing. Instead, evaluate for other sources for the problem. Pacifiers and thumb-sucking have been known to cause crooked teeth; however, sometimes the problem is merely genetics.
Many mothers are frightened by the daunting task of nursing an infant or toddler who has teeth. Even though your child has teeth, you do not need to wean them off of breastfeeding. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend moms to breastfeed their infants for at least the first year of life, and the World Health Organization advocates for a minimum of two years.