Our doulas see this question ALL the time in Facebook parenting groups: does breast milk cause cavities? There is a lot of information “out there,” but rarely from qualified sources. So we consulted, Dr. Maria Angelica Cohen (or “Dr. Angie” as her patients call her) – a pediatric dentist at Cohen Family Smiles in Yorktown Heights, NY.
Breastfeeding Your Baby
Breastfeeding is one of the most important activities in infancy and early childhood. More than a nutritional choice, breastfeeding is a parenting choice, with proven benefits for mothers, infants, children, and families.
The benefits of breastfeeding, both for the child and mother, are numerous. As we all know, the benefits to the infant include ideal nutrition, resistance to infectious diseases, enhance immune system, physical and developmental growth benefits, and reduce risk of chronic diseases and allergy.
Does Breast Milk Cause Cavities?
It had been long assumed that human milk is naturally protective to the teeth. However, proper oral hygiene must be implemented in order to prevent caries (commonly known as “tooth decay”).
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention report that caries are perhaps the most prevalent of infectious diseases in our nation’s children. More than 40% of children have caries by the time they reach kindergarten. Early childhood caries can be a particularly virulent form of decay, beginning soon after toot eruption, developing on smooth surfaces, progressing rapidly, and having a lasting detrimental impact on the dentition.
Caries is a complex diseased caused by an imbalance in physiologic equilibrium between tooth mineral and a biofilm that is produced by communities of normal oral bacteria.
Research shows that human milk by itself does not promote tooth decay. But breastfeeding infants who fall asleep within nursing with un-swallowed milk in their mouths are vulnerable to tooth decay.
Beyond the first year, dental caries can occur in toddlers who receive sugary liquids in a bottle or who are nursing and eating sugary foods and carbohydrates. Make a point of removing your breast from your baby’s mouth once she has fallen asleep and wiping down their gums and teeth.
Promoting Good Dental Health from the Start
- To stimulate healthy gums and good oral hygiene: wipe the gums at least once a day, beginning at birth, even before any teeth have erupted in your child’s mouth.
- After teeth erupt: wiping her gums and teeth with a piece of gauze or a damp cloth after feeding and before bedtime will help maintain good oral hygiene.
- Once you are able to brush: start using a smear (grain of rice sized) amount of toothpaste and a soft bristled, child-size toothbrush for daily cleaning (two times a day).
Fluoridated toothpaste is recommended after age of 2.
When Should I Take my Baby to the Dentist?
The current recommendation is to bring your baby for their first dental check up between 7 and 9 months of age, but no later than their first birthday. The dentist will provide anticipatory guidance and will help to keep your baby’s mouth healthy.
About Dr. Angie Cohen
Dr. Angie attended Nova Southeastern University College of Dental Medicine (where she met her husband, Dr. Cohen – the orthodontist at their practice). Dr. Angie completed her residency at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. She and her husband moved to her husband’s hometown of Yorktown in 2016 and the pair opened their dental practice in January 2019. They accept most insurance plans and offer convenient evening and weekend appointments. Personally and professionally we could not recommend this practice more highly.