Breastfeeding and tooth decay. It's a controversial topic, especially for mamas who feed their little one to sleep or overnight and may have been told that doing so can lead to dental issues.
We thought we should separate the fact from the fiction because, let's face it, information (and misinformation) abounds and we all just want to do what's best for our little boobie monsters!
So, where did the idea that breastfeeding could cause tooth decay and dental issues actually come from? Turns out, it was thanks to three reports published in the 1970's and 1980's that pointed to a link between breastmilk and cavities.
Since then, loads more research has been done into the link between the two and, guess what? It's largely been found that breastfeeding/breastmilk DOES NOT lead to tooth decay. Yippee!
And you don't just need to take our word for it! This study of 13,889 mother-baby pairs found that there was "no evidence of beneficial or harmful effects of prolonged and exclusive breast-feeding on dental caries (cavities) at early school age."
These findings were also echoed in a study published in the Pediatrics Journal which concluded that "there was no evidence to suggest that breastfeeding or its duration are independent risk factors for early childhood caries (cavities), severe early childhood caries, or decayed and filled surfaces on primary teeth." Good news indeed!
Thing is, it just wouldn't make sense from an evolutionary perspective for breastmilk to cause dental issues. And studies of prehistoric skullsbacks that up. There was no tooth decay to be found, despite it being generally thought that babies and children would be breastfed for an extended period.
It's now thought that breastmilk may actually protect against tooth decay, thanks to the antibodies and proteins it contains which help stop bacterial growth, including the bacteria that causes tooth decay.
In fact, a study published in the European Archives of Paediatric Dentistry that investigated the changes in tooth enamel after soaking teeth in breast milk found that Lactoferrin, a protein in breastmilk, actually kills the bacteria that causes tooth decay and and helps teeth gain a significant amount of protective calcium.
Image source: Milky Mama LLC
While it would be AWESOME if breastmilk protected entirely against cavities and tooth decay, it's unfortunately not the case as there are other factors, usually food related, that can cause dental issues. A build up of decay-causing bacteria from things like kissing on the mouth or sharing a toothbrush, drink or spoon with siblings or parents can introduce the bacteria into your babies mouth where it can begin to multiply. This can be especially problematic for children who are predisposed to tooth decay and/or cavities due to weakened tooth enamel. This can be caused by things like genetics, maternal or fetal illness or stress during pregnancy, smoking during pregnancy and a lack of oral hygiene.
Good oral hygiene i.e. teaching kids to brush their teeth is one of the best ways to prevent tooth decay.
Brushing twice a day with a soft toothbrush (we love the Haakaa 360 Silicone Toothbrush) and water even before teeth appear can help encourage good habits. Make teeth brushing time fun by involving the whole family or turning it into a game.
For more information about breastfeeding and tooth decay, check out the Australian Breastfeeding Association
And for more nifty baby gear, check out our awesome selection of baby essentials.