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The question of whether breast milk causes dental decay has been asked for decades and is still often asked today. The fact is, research clearly indicates there is no correlation between breastfeeding and dental cavities. Breastfeeding and breast milk alone do not cause tooth decay. However, breast fed infants can still develop tooth decay due to other factors.

There are several differences between bottle-feeding and breast feeding and how they relate to dental cavities. During breast feeding, the nipple is placed into the back of the mouth, allowing the milk to be released into the throat only when the baby is nursing. Bottle-feeding on the contrary releases milk into the front of the mouth, thus causing the milk to bathe the front teeth. This is an especially critical factor when babies are allowed to fall asleep with a bottle in their mouths. Nursing bottle mouth decay is a term used to describe the development of rampant tooth decay on baby teeth. Usuall,y the decay is due to the infant falling asleep with a bottle containing fluids high in sugars like formula, juices, and cow’s milk.

Blame it on the S. Mutans…

The cause of dental tooth decay is a bacteria called Streptococcus Mutans (S.Mutans) and it is found in dental plaque. S. Mutans bacteria feast on the sugars we eat and as a result produce acids that directly deteriorate tooth enamel and cause decay. Infants and children with increased incidence of tooth decay may have increased levels of S.Mutans bacteria. S.Mutans bacteria can be transferred to baby through saliva-to-saliva contact from any family member. Activities such as the sharing of spoons/forks, cups, and placing pacifiers in the parent’s mouth before placing it in the baby’s mouth should be avoided.

Another important contributing factor to tooth decay in infants and young children is genetic defects in the enamel. Teeth with genetic defects in the enamel are at increased risk for tooth decay. Food with high sugar levels are also to blame.

Good oral hygiene habits from birth are necessary in helping prevent tooth decay. A baby’s gums and teeth should be gently cleaned at least twice a day with a soft cloth or gauzedampened with water. Baby’s teeth should be wiped clean, especially after taking medications like liquid antibiotics that usually contain large amounts of sugar to make them taste better. Lastly, practice good oral hygiene for yourself to decrease the S. Mutans bacteria and all bacteria from being transferred to your child.

Celebrate Breast Milk for Your Baby’s Smile!

Among many other health benefits of breast milk, breast milk has actually also been proven through research to have a protective and preventative effect against dental tooth decay. Breast milk contains Lacoferrin, a protein that has been found to kill the S.Mutans bacteria responsible for tooth decay. In addition, breast milk does not contain lactose sugar present in cow’s milk. So don’t worry, breastfeeding your child will not increase their tooth decay risk! Now that’s something you (and your baby) can smile about.

Visit Pina Mazza at Maple Dental Hygiene Care for any concerns related to infant and children oral health care.


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