Is Breast Milk Best for Your Baby’s Teeth?
Is there a link between how a baby is fed (breast vs. bottle) and the future development of cavities? There’s no simple answer to that question.
Here’s what we currently know. First, cavities—technically, dental caries—are infections caused by Streptococcus mutans bacteria. Almost all adults have these bacteria in their mouths, and you will surely transfer them to your baby. If the baby has any teeth, the addition of another necessary element, sugar on a tooth, begins the caries process. The bacteria feed on the sugar and leave acid as a residue; the acid causes decay.
The key, then, is to keep your child’s mouth as sugar-free as possible. That doesn’t just mean sugar out of a box, of course; almost any leftover food or liquid particles (other than plain water) will have sugar or compounds that turn to sugar. That includes baby formula, cow’s milk and breast milk.
One way to get rid of that sugar is to gently clean your child’s gums after each feeding—even before the first tooth erupts, even before he or she eats solid food. Bonus: It will make routine tooth-brushing seem natural as your baby grows up.
The other crucial step to keeping your child’s mouth free of sugar is to make sure he or she does not fall asleep while feeding. The fewer nighttime feedings, the better. If your child falls asleep with breast milk or formula (or any other non-water beverage) in his or her mouth at any time, sugars remain. But at night, everyone (even a baby) makes less saliva, and that contributes to sugars being washed away less efficiently.
Breast milk contains natural chemicals that confer protection of many kinds, including, to some degree, against Streptococcus mutans. Another benefit is that—all other things being equal—breast milk doesn’t contribute to much acid production in your child’s mouth. But those benefits can’t fully counter the risks of prolonged nighttime nursings.
Your child should have his or her first dental appointment no later than when their first tooth erupts. Dr. Jared can give you additional sensible guidelines for caring for your little one’s teeth that will give him or her the best chance of avoiding cavities, whether they are breast- or bottle-fed.
Call us to schedule an appointment today! 509-891-7070.