Ask the pediatric dentist: Can breast milk cause cavities?

If you’ve never thought to sit down with your pediatric dentist and ask this question, it’s time to do just that. It may seem like the answer is obvious: “Of course breast milk doesn’t cause cavities. It’s natural, so there’s no way it could hurt my baby. Duh.” Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

Baby-Bottle Tooth Decay (BBTD)

Meet the culprit behind dental cavities in infants:BBTD, also known as dental caries, is costly to treat, painful for your child, and can lead to serious, in rare cases even life-threatening infections. It can’t get any worse, right? Wrong! Not meaning to be the bearer of bad news, but BBTD doesn’t just occur in bottle-feeding babies. It can also occur in breastfeeding infants, and even toddlers who are learning to eat soft or regular foods.

What causes BBTD?

“It can’t be the breast milk! There’s no way it’s the breast milk!” If you were thinking that, you’d be right. You can wipe the beads of sweat from your forehead now. The cause of BBTD isn’t the breast milk itself, but rather the infants who fall asleep with un-swallowed milk in their mouths while nursing. The same thing occurs with infants who fall asleep with a bottle of milk or juice in their crib, as well as toddlers eating sugary foods or carbohydrates just before they nod off. If the child falls asleep with these substances in their mouth, it forms a coat over their teeth that can cause cavities if left for a long period of time.

How to prevent BBTD and encourage healthy oral habits

While breastfeeding, simply remove your breast from your child’s mouth if or when they fall asleep. Congratulations, you just helped prevent BBTD in your breastfeeding infant! As for bottle-feeding infants, there’s one of two things you can do:

  • If your baby has not grown any teeth yet: gently wipe the gums with a baby washcloth. This is also effective in stimulating healthy gums and good oral hygiene.
  • If your baby has one or more teeth: whip out that baby toothbrush and brush their tooth gently with a smear of fluoride toothpaste

For your toddler eating soft or regular foods, brush your child’s teeth for 2 minutes, 2 times a day with fluoride toothpaste.

Other ways of preventing BBTD in your breastfeeding infant, bottle-feeding infant, or toddler include the following:

  • Do not put your child to bed with a bottle or food
  • Teach your child to use a regular cup as early as possible
  • Keep sippy cups filled with water rather that juice
  • Limit the consumption of sweet foods

Finally, one more precaution you can take to prevent BBTD in your child is to take your kiddo to a pediatric dentist before their first birthday. Not only can the dentist can detect signs of dental caries before it gets out of control, but he can also help teach your child healthy oral habits that can help keep their teeth healthy for life.


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