Night Nursing and Cavities

Extended nursing is loosely defined. In the United States, where only about a third of babies are exclusively breastfed until 3 months of age and fewer than a sixth are exclusively breastfed until 6 months of age (per the CDC), one could reasonably claim that breastfeeding beyond a year is “extended.” The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least a year (with complementary foods after six months of age), while the World Health Organization recommends at least two years. It goes without saying, then, that a baby breastfed per the recommendations of these organizations will still be breastfeeding when teeth have come in. Some lucky parents have babies who start sleeping through the night at only a few months of age, while other mothers find themselves nursing once, twice, or even multiple times per night well beyond a baby’s first birthday. Certain sources, including La Leche League, suggest that breast milk isn’t cariogenic (cavity-causing), and even protects the teeth. Others, however, suggest that breast milk pooling in a baby’s mouth leads to early cavities, which can have significant ramifications for later oral health. What does the science say about night nursing and cavities?

One problem with finding a scientific answer to this question is that it’s difficult research to do. Case studies — reports of medical findings in a given individual — provide a limited amount of information, but aren’t a strong platform from which to derive inductive generalizations. This is because it’s difficult or impossible to establish causality in the case of an individual. As such, while there are reports in the literature of nursing caries associated with breastfeeding, these don’t support the conclusion that night nursing causes cavities.

Stronger evidence that night nursing either is or is not associated with cavity formation comes from population-level analysis. Dentist Brian Palmer, who studies ancient human skulls, concludes that there’s no connection between breastfeeding and night nursing on the grounds that 1) there isn’t evidence of cavities in ancient skulls of children, and 2) these children were probably breastfed for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, there are several problems with his theories. First, he has no proof that children were nursed at night (yes, they probably were…but he has no proof). Second, he does not take into account other aspects of diet that could significantly impact dental health. The conclusion he can reasonably draw from his research is that nursing didn’t cause cavities in children 500-1000 years ago, but it’s not possible to generalize this conclusion to today’s children because of significant dietary and lifestyle differences.

A few studies have looked at populations of modern children in an attempt to determine whether night nursing correlates with cavities. A study of children in Tehran found an association between bottle-feeding with milk at night and cavity development, but no association between breastfeeding at night and cavity development (Mohebbi et al). A study of Swedish children found that it was the intake of cariogenic food that was most associated with early cavity formation (Hallonsten et al). This finding weakens the findings of the Mohebbi study where they apply to children in the U.S. and other Western industrialized nations, because of significant dietary differences. Hallonsten also found, interestingly enough, that children who engaged in extended breastfeeding were more likely to consume cariogenic foods and have other cavity-promoting dietary habits than those who weaned at younger ages. A study of Dutch children found that frequency of breastfeeding and lack of fluoride were most associated with development of cavities (Weerheijm et al).

Note that the experimental design in the studies above is not one that allows determination of causality, only correlation. It’s possible that parents who breastfeed at night also engage in or encourage behavior x (whatever that might be), which predisposes their children to (or helps prevent) cavities.

Cavities are, of course, complicated things. There are a multitude of factors that make them more likely (bacterial colonization of the mouth, intake of cariogenic foods), as well as factors that make them less likely (dental hygiene, fluoride). Perhaps the most important question to answer in order to inform the night nursing/cavities association is whether human milk itself is cariogenic. La Leche League claims it is not, but this appears not to be supported by any particular scientific evidence, as they cite no direct research on the cariogenicity of human milk. Research evidence, in contrast, suggests that human milk is mildly cariogenic, though far less so than sugar water or soda (Bowen et al). The researchers ranked the cariogenicity of various tested substances as follows: table sugar, 1; soda (cola), 1.16 (the acid probably contributed to the increased cariogenicity as compared to table sugar); honey, 0.88; human breast milk, 0.29; cow’s milk, 0.01; distilled water, 0. The authors speculated that the increased cariogenicity of human milk as compared to cow’s milk may be due to the greater concentration of lactose in human milk, and (likely more important) the much lower concentration of dental health-supporting minerals (such as calcium and phosphate) in human milk. Based upon this research, it is unreasonable to suggest that human milk is non-cariogenic.

 

Science Bottom Line:* Human milk is approximately 1/3 as cariogenic as table sugar, and should be treated as a mildly cariogenic food. It’s probably reasonable to consider brushing a child’s teeth after a night nursing session, or at least wiping them off with gauze.

 

What do you do to help prevent nursing cavities in your night-nursing baby or toddler?

 

References:

Bowen et al. Comparison of the cariogenicity of cola, honey, cow milk, human milk, and sucrose. Pediatrics. 2005 Oct;116(4):921-6.

Hallonsten et al. Dental caries and prolonged breast-feeding in 18-month-old Swedish children. Int J Paediatr Dent. 1995 Sep;5(3):149-55.

Mohebbi et al. Feeding habits as determinants of early childhood caries in a population where prolonged breastfeeding is the norm. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. 2008 Aug;36(4):363-9.

Palmer; B. Breastfeeding and infant caries: No connection. ABM News and Views 2000; 6(4): 27,31.

Palmer B. The Influence of Breastfeeding on the Development of the Oral Cavity: A Commentary. J Hum Lact 1998;14:93-98.

Weerheihm et al. Prolonged demand breast-feeding and nursing caries. Caries Res. 1998;32(1):46-50.

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33 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Alice Callahan
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 19:07:48

    Thanks for this informative post. I really respect the mission of LLL and think they do great work in supporting women with breastfeeding, but I think they skimp on science sometimes to minimize any problems or objections that may be associated with breastfeeding or to boost its “amazingness” (new word!). You know it annoys me:)

    I’m curious – how did the Bowen study assess cariogenicity? I often hear moms say that the amazing anti-bacterial qualities of breast milk are preventative of cavities, so I wonder if that has any impact.

    We have a solid brushing routine after our bedtime nursing, and BabyC rarely wakes during the night. Lately she’s been teething though, and we’ve been doing some night nursing. She’s not a fan of tooth brushing, so I’m not about to try to brush her teeth in the middle of the night when I’m trying to convince her that it is time to go back to sleep. I don’t think this is a big deal since it doesn’t happen often, but I would worry about it if it was a nightly occurrence.

    Reply

    • SquintMom
      Jan 16, 2012 @ 23:26:17

      He used rat teeth, which are well-established as a model for human teeth. Rat pups also have a similar swallowing mechanism to that of suckling human babies, which allowed the fluid to pool around the teeth to the same extent it might be expected to in a human baby. Cariogenicity was established as a transformed number of smooth and sulcal (indentation) surface lesions.

      I’ve been thinking a lot about night nursing lately, because W still nurses 2-4 times a night. She still has not a single tooth at 11 mos of age, but I know they’re coming, and at this rate, they’ll be here LONG before she’s night weaned. I am actually pondering using toothbrushing as a way of night-weaning her. I figure she’ll hate having her teeth brushed, and I can tell her that she’s welcome to nurse at night, but if she does, she’ll need teeth brushed again. I probably won’t do this if she’s sick or teething (I’ll just let her nurse), but maybe I can hit two birds with one stone, preventing cavities and moving toward more sleep for mama all in one!!

      Reply

  2. Julie
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 17:12:48

    So glad I found this article (and your web site!). I’ve been thinking about this very subject the last few days. My son, E, will be one next week, and we are still breastfeeding. After a mere 6-8 weeks of sleeping solidly through the night (around three or four months), he has been waking up anywhere from one to four times during the night. Some nights, all he needs is the paci put back in and a pat on the butt. Others, he won’t go back down without nursing. And if he ever comes to our bed (like when bad weather comes through), I seem to be his all-night cafe!

    E has four teeth now, and I’m working on incorporating brushing into our bedtime routine, and I may consider re-brushing after night nursing. Only, he tends to fall asleep. Suggestions for using something other than a toothbrush for those times?

    Reply

    • SquintMom
      Jan 24, 2012 @ 17:57:55

      Thanks for the kind words! E sounds like my W; she has only slept through the night a few times.

      To be honest, I don’t have suggestions for “other than toothbrush” that I’ve actually tried; W is only just now getting her very first tooth (at 11 mos and a week!). I can tell you what I’m thinking, though, and maybe you can give it a shot and report back for the SquintMom community? I’m thinking of doing a brushing before bed (with toothpaste), and then wiping the teeth (tooth, in W’s case) down with gauze after night nursings. You’d want to use a fresh piece of gauze each time. There are also those little silicone finger-brushes that you could use, but you’d probably want to have several available or wash one each time so that you’re not wiping the teeth with a dirty brush. I’m thinking of trying the gauze.

      The other thing I’m thinking, as W becomes more verbal (in the next few months), is that I can use tooth-brushing to solve two problems at once. Assuming she isn’t a fan of brushing teeth, I can tell her that night nursing is fine, but if she nurses, she’ll have to brush teeth again. Maybe this will help encourage her to get back to sleep without nursing! I do plan to relent and allow nursing (using gauze for wiping teeth down) if she’s sick, though.

      Hope the suggestions are helpful, and I do hope you’ll let me know if you hit upon something that works for you.

      Reply

  3. Lissa
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 20:52:02

    I’ve been reading a lot about fluoride lately… mainly whether or not to supplement (my 10 month old is breastfed and doesn’t really like water, so I’m not sure how much fluoride she’s getting). I’ve read that fluoride can be dangerous, is not approved by the FDA, etc etc.

    Do you have thoughts on this?

    I found a link to this page on KellyMom and it really got me thinking and wondering: http://drjaygordon.com/link-library?cat=Fluoride+and+Fluoride+Supplements

    Thanks!!

    Reply

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  5. yolanda
    Feb 07, 2012 @ 19:30:24

    One also has to look at the method of how milk is delivered into the baby. Bottle feeding allows for milk (human or bovine) to pool around the teeth. When breastfeeding the nipple is stretched to the back of the throat and therefore very little milk would be touching the surface of the teeth.

    Reply

    • SquintMom
      Feb 07, 2012 @ 21:36:10

      Actually, the study I cited on the cariogenicity of human milk looked at the mechanism of milk delivery, and was specific to breastfeeding.

      Reply

  6. al
    Jul 31, 2012 @ 13:45:44

    It seems to me that a second conclusion one could draw from Palmer (and what I’ve read of Weston A Price) is that tooth decay and the potential cariogenicity (??) of breastmilk is not something humans should have to worry about. In which case I think feeding your child based off of more traditional diets (ie avoiding/minimizing all of our highly processed staples) ought to be enough to not worry about night nursing. This is not science, of course, but just what makes sense to me. My night nursing toddler with 8 teeth doesn’t get much in the way of white flour or white sugar (no juice) and doesn’t eat any processed food, really…. so hopefully this will work out. Thanks for this info though!!! I’m not sure if the studies you mentioned are also featured in: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/01/AR2007100101109.html but I thought it was interesting how much poverty plays a roll…

    Reply

    • amy v
      Jan 05, 2013 @ 18:18:15

      I never thought about diet…I’m really careful about what my son eats-no juice either. However, he does eat processed foods at times (although I try to limit it). I posted a comment further down about his cavities…I feel so horribly guilty and don’t know how to prevent them. I’m a firm believer in nursing and my almost 2 yr old still does. Any recipe suggestions your toddler likes? My son can be quite picky.

      Reply

      • al
        Jan 09, 2013 @ 14:50:50

        hmm, my son’s favorite foods are fruit (though not citrus), rice, bread, cheese, plain full-fat yogurt, and meat. no special recipes. when we first started feeding him at 6 months we did Baby Led Weaning and got the Baby Led Weaning Cookbook (though i think they may be overly anti-salt and unnecessarily anti whole wheat). i also read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and got the Weston A Price Nourishing Traditions Cookbook (which i have not used as a cookbook, but it has an interesting long introduction). are there specific foods you would want to replace? i have foodie friends i could ask.

        re the cavities… i don’t want to seem anti medicine, because i am pro medicine, and before i got pregnant i was very pro medical science. after getting pregnant though all these things came up and i’ve basically decided i don’t trust any doctor who is going to tell me how to be or stay healthy. this leaves me very confused about teeth because prevention is so important for teeth. i had a friend who went to the dentist regularly and never had any cavities and then she moved and got a new dentist who found five. he obviously wanted to get straight to work. she declined. she asked around and learned that when they take xrays of teeth they see shades that give them density information… but they don’t necessarily *know* whether they are looking at cavities. i mean if your kid has seen the dentist twice and the xrays got worse, then i assume the dentist is justified in calling them cavities, but if it was on the first or only visit, i don’t know. in theory it would be nice to know if the dentist is considered more drill-happy than others, but i have no idea if that info is out there.

        back to picky eating, one of the things i love about BFing my toddler is that i don’t worry when he doesn’t eat as much. we never feel obligated to make sure there is food he will eat… except in as much as we feel obligated to make sure there’s a healthy variety which usually includes something he’ll eat.

        i still haven’t taken my 20mo to the dentist. i feel vaguely guilty but i know that i hadn’t gone to the dentist at his age and i honestly don’t know whom or what to trust. i’m going to a meeting in the summer that’s supposed to talk about holistic dental stuff… of course i won’t know til i go whether it’s evidence based or ideology based.

        also i tried to ask these questions to a friend of mine who is a dentist, but she just gave me standard-issue fluoride is awesome memo (which i’m not sure about) and then said how if she had a baby she’d make sure not to share saliva which is IMPOSSIBLE. (“sorry i can’t give you a grape half, honey, i don’t have a knife with me.” “no, you absolutely may not put your finger in mama’s mouth!” so sure.)

        good luck and don’t feel too guilty i’m right there with you! 🙂 i recently started night weaning (and HATED it) but then he got sick and we’re right back where we started.

      • al
        Jan 09, 2013 @ 21:13:15

        oh, i also meant to say that i’ve started brushing his teeth with a tiny bit of baking soda (after i realized he had tartar on his front teeth).

  7. amy v
    Jan 05, 2013 @ 18:15:28

    I’m really glad I found your site! I’m so concerned because my almost 2 yr old co-sleeps with me and yes, still nurses at night. (Obviously for comfort more than necessity for calories!). He already as a couple cavities on his uppers and I feel so wracked with guilt. It’s a double edged sword…I firmly believe that breast milk is best for babies/toddlers but every time I do it-especially night time-I’m worried about his teeth. This is something no one ever warned me about and now I feel really foolish. I wipe his teeth off if he nurses during the day at all, but to be honest, in the middle of the night I’m so exhausted from him waking me up I don’t think of it. (Plus I don’t want to wake him up further!). I suppose maybe I will get some gauze and try that. Once he’s 2 yrs old, I’m going to decide how we should transfer him to his own bed….he’s been sleeping with us since he was about 6 mo old.
    Has anyone had to deal with toddler cavities? At this point, he’s too young for them to work on…not advanced enough anyway. If they get worse his pediatric dentist said he’d have to be put under anesthesia..definitely want to avoid that if at all possible.

    Reply

    • SquintMom
      Jan 09, 2013 @ 11:50:37

      I’m sorry to hear you’re having to deal with cavities. That’s tough.

      Some people are more prone to cavities than others, and particularly if you avoid juice and sugary foods with your son, it’s possible that he’s simply a cavity-prone child. The cavity issue is a difficult one; one the one hand, yes, breast milk is best for babies (there is no evidence to support that it’s necessary/best for toddlers). Further, our evolutionary ancestors would, of course, have nursed their babies/toddlers through the night, so the pooling of breast milk around the teeth would definitely have occurred. Just because it “used” to happen, though, doesn’t mean it still should. Our diet these days is very different from that of our evolutionary ancestors; even foods that don’t taste sugary can have lots of added sugar, and at its chemical heart, starches (which don’t taste sweet) are nothing more than chains of sugars. We also cook and cut our food more than our ancestors did, which reduces the extent to which the food naturally scrapes plaque off the teeth. And then there’s the fact that we live much, MUCH longer than they did, so our teeth need to last longer, too. Furthermore, unlike our evolutionary ancestors, there’s the added aesthetic concern; we generally care about how our teeth look. Everything taken together suggests that we need to be more careful about breast milk in a toddler’s mouth at night than our ancestors would have had to have been.

      Reply

      • al
        Jan 09, 2013 @ 14:34:31

        when you say “no evidence” re benefits of breastmilk for toddlers, do you mean there is conflicting evidence? because a quick Google produces references to such evidence. (http://www.lalecheleague.org/nb/nbmayjun06p100.html) the other points you make are interesting, though you make it sound like it’s been a really long time since humans had okay teeth, and i’m not sure if that’s true. i don’t have data one way or the other, but for instance (for anecdote) i knew someone who said when he lived in india the dentists didn’t scrape the teeth and they all had healthy teeth. and we go to the dentist way more often than we used to but i think that was so dentists could make money. i think there just may be too many unknowns.

      • SquintMom
        Jan 09, 2013 @ 15:36:57

        Actually, much of what you get when you do a google search is anecdotal. For the science that has been done, none of it has been conducted on toddlers in first-world (developed) nations. The benefits of breastfeeding during toddlerhood in undeveloped nations include protection from exposure to contaminated water, etc, but there is simply no evidence (because there’s no research) that demonstrates benefits in developed nations. Further the established benefits to toddlers in undeveloped nations likely don’t apply to first-world toddlers (as we have access to clean water, etc). While there may be continued immune system benefits to breastfeeding toddlers, that has not been established.

        Also, I am not saying it has been a long time since humans had healthy teeth. I’m simply saying that our very different diets (compared to ancestral diets) and our long lifespans, coupled with our aesthetics, combine to make it impossible to claim that because our ancestors likely nursed toddlers at night, it is therefore ok/healthy for us to do so as well. As you say, there are simply too many unknowns, and as such, we can’t point to an ancestral behavior and suggest that it’s a good idea now because it was something we did then.

      • al
        Jan 09, 2013 @ 21:27:21

        i hope i am not becoming one of those people who argues with strangers on the internet!

        i can’t really argue with the truth of what you’re saying, however i think the way you say it is biased/misleading. i am overly educated, but i’m not a scientist, so maybe other scientists know exactly what you mean (not sure your intended audience), but it seems to me that if you say “there is no evidence to support A” you give off the impression that the burden of proof rests on proponents of A. the choice between “there is no evidence to support A” and “there is no evidence to support not-A” shows bias. from my point of view, there is no evidence (unless there is?) to support the idea that extended breastfeeding isn’t the most awesome thing you can do for your toddler.

        i’m glad that you agree that breastfeeding is best for infants, but the science wasn’t always there. first there were no options but breastmilk and nobody did any research. then science created and came out heavily for infant formula and it failed miserably. similar stories with childbirth. (i’ve glossed over the details obviously because i don’t remember them.)

        anyway, i guess my point is, if you don’t think the burden of proof is for breastfeeding to show that it is still good for toddlers, i’m not sure your responses were written as such. if on the other hand you tend to believe that modern life is such that all of our natural practices need to be re-evaluated and studied, and that we should be skeptical of nature in the meantime, i disagree, but i would not argue the point.

        (ps sorry if somewhere on your blog your point of view is explained. i haven’t had time to go back and do the sort of pre-internet-comment-research i would’ve done before having a baby.)

      • SquintMom
        Jan 10, 2013 @ 10:00:21

        So…to keep my response very simple, what is accepted by science is not always the ultimate truth. Science can (usually for relatively short periods of time in the grand scheme of human existence) accept something that is not true, and science often has yet to accept something that is true. However, “belief” and scientific evidence are two very different things. A person may believe that breastfeeding is the best thing for a toddler, or a person may believe that breastfeeding is unnecessary for a toddler…and each person will act on their beliefs. As far as the science goes, however, there is no evidence to support EITHER notion (for a developed-world toddler); the ultimate truth (is breastfeeding best for a toddler or unnecessary for a toddler) is not yet known, so we all just have to go on our beliefs.

      • amy v
        Jan 10, 2013 @ 12:29:14

        Wow, I’m so glad there have been so many comments! I also don’t argue on the internet but there have been research studies done (don’t have time to look them up, but research has been done!), which I’ve read, that do show the important properties of breastmilk and how vital it is for babies. Now, I do agree that it’s not vital for toddlers…but there’s also no evidence it’s harmful. This is to say, while my son does have a couple cavities, I still believe (due to research) that it’s best. I’m not saying anything negative against those who choose not to breastfeed or can’t…this is just my humble view.
        I guess I was just hoping that someone out there would read what I wrote and understand what I’m going through…maybe even experienced it with their child. Or give me tips on what they did to prevent cavities.

      • SquintMom
        Jan 11, 2013 @ 08:52:56

        You’re absolutely right that there are loads of research studies showing breastmilk is important (not vital, but important and best) for babies, and that there are no studies showing it is harmful for toddlers. Note that lack of evidence is not the same as evidence of harm; when I say there is no research to show that breastmilk is necessary for toddlers (in the first world), I’m not saying that it is harmful!

    • al
      Jan 11, 2013 @ 20:08:10

      also please please don’t do pediatric sedation without doing more research. not all dental offices are experienced enough to deal with it. pediatric sedation in a hospital is safe, but it’s an art, not a science (as they say) and it really requires Experience.

      Reply

      • amy v
        Jan 15, 2013 @ 12:51:32

        his pediatric dentist said it looks like we may have to go that route…pediatric sedation at the local hospital. They’re very experienced but we see him one more time to check my son’s couple teeth that have cavities. I am beyond stressed out about this…not only the sedation part but the cost too. Obviously I would find a way to pay for anything medically necessary but I’m worried about my 2 yr old baby going through this. 😦

      • al
        Jan 17, 2013 @ 09:59:59

        oh i’m so glad it’s at the hospital. this is very stressful! i am so sorry this is happening!

        do you want to email me? i just made a temporary (week long) email address: temporary 321 (at) hma mail dot com

        i had to look into pediatric sedation when it looked like we might be getting an mri, so i can tell you what we found, if you like.

  8. Worried Mom
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 16:01:25

    Thank you all for sharing your experience and research. My baby is 9mo now, with 2 teeth, sleeping with us and snacking on the boob buffet at night to soothe herself back to sleep as well:-/. I am so nervous about this all, along with everything else…new mom…can you tell??? Anyway, I have flip flopped back and forth most recently believing breastfeeding at night would not cause cavities. So, thank you, Amy v for sharing your story. It is so easy to just nurse her back to sleep at night, and having to work full time is difficult with those night time awakenings. I feel exhausted just thinking about weening her. But it seems like this might be the best solution for prevention. Maybe it is better to be safe than sorry. So, if you see a crazy person falling over on the street in the next few weeks…be nice to her…it’s probably me:-)

    Reply

    • SquintMom
      Jan 11, 2013 @ 08:54:00

      I don’t know whether you meant “night weaning” when you said “weaning,” but that might be a reasonable compromise between night nursing and total weaning…

      Reply

    • al
      Jan 11, 2013 @ 20:06:26

      how are your teeth? and baby’s dad’s teeth? i think cavities may have a genetic component. night weaning may work for you, but my experience with it was that it was not the picnic i was expecting. i don’t mean the getting him to stop nursing, that we were able to do. but he still sleeps in the bed and i still wake when he moves, but i get no comforting hormones to get me back to sleep. also he doesn’t sleep well next to me if he can’t nurse, so i don’t get to be near him and i really feel like i lost something. he got sick and we went back to night nursing and i’m not sure what i’m going to do. i only weaned for fertility reasons. anyway good luck!!!

      (also just to be picky we don’t know whether night nursing actually caused the cavities…. 🙂 )

      Reply

  9. Confused
    Feb 16, 2013 @ 15:33:09

    I’ve been doing a bit of research on night nursing since I left the dentist’s office yesterday with my 2.5 year old who has eight (!) cavities. I’m devastated, and hate that we will need to put him under general anesthesia to have them fixed, but trying to do them in the office bit by bit will be much too traumatic. We barely made it through a simple examination.

    Anyway, my dentist says that this is a result of our night nursing, which we did for nearly 28 months. The popular breastfeeding websites (LLLI, kellymom.com) say my dentist is a moron. And I’m confused. I was refreshed to see your conclusions on the oft-cited Palmer study, because I was getting a little tired of hearing about ancient skulls. 🙂 And nowhere else have I seen the Bowen study… Usually the Erickson study (1999) is quoted in conjunction with the Palmer study, which states that human milk is not cariogenic.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/10197331/

    Could you explain why the findings from these two studies would contradict each other? Please? 🙂

    Reply

    • SquintMom
      Feb 19, 2013 @ 08:31:46

      Well, cariogenicity is a relative thing, first of all, and because most substances are going to be on a continuum between water (not at all cariogenic) and, say, pure sugar (very cariogenic), whether or not a substance “is cariogenic” is going to involve a bit of opinion. The Palmer study is the only one of which I am aware that tested human breast milk on actual teeth; other studies look at its composition relative to that of cow’s milk and conclude that it must have similar cariogenic potential (which it doesn’t; it’s actually far worse!)

      Reply

    • amy v
      Feb 24, 2013 @ 14:46:18

      hello-I wasn’t sure if you read my comment about my son, but I can relate to your experience. My son has cavities and he’s two. He is going to have to get a couple crowns, which will be done in May. If you want to email me feel free: annae 07 at aol dot com.

      Reply

  10. Laughing
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 19:48:34

    We make parenting more and more difficult these days. Now we have to brush our babies teeth after night nursing? Babies have been night nursing since the beginning of humanity, aside from our more recent industrialized attempts to stop it. I can take common sense over one solitary study with rats. I can understand brushing off processed foods, but brushing teeth in the middle of the night sounds like a joke! Who is really going to do that?? All this advice is going to do is make more women want to wean earlier at their children and our society’s detriment. I nursed all 3 of mine around the clock for 2 yrs each and only one of them got cavities which started to appear on her front teeth as soon as she was allowed to have juice (no juice for the others).

    Reply

    • SquintMom
      Jun 03, 2013 @ 09:10:25

      Well, the argument that we’ve been doing xyz (nursing or anything else) since the beginning of humanity is a fairly weak one when it comes to health. Through the vast majority of human history, the average lifespan was about 30-35 years, which meant that dental hygiene was not a major issue in the grand scheme. The luxury of long life afforded by modern medicine means we have concerns that our evolutionary ancestors did not. Parenting is, by definition, more complicated when one is trying to build a healthy foundation that will last for eight decades, as opposed to the mere three decades our ancestral parents worried about.

      Reply

    • al
      Jun 03, 2013 @ 11:08:58

      Laughing, I agree. Brushing teeth in the middle of the night is a joke, and it’s so unfair to give that advice, I think. kellymom has good info, and a link to an article on mothering.com as well. My son got cavities off of a perfectly healthy sugar/juice-free diet and it’s been really stressful. I wish any of these debates about breast milk and cavities would spend a little bit of time talking about early childhood tooth decay. All of my research was wasted focusing on a question that really oughtn’t be asked in the first place, as far as I’m concerned.

      It’s really important to brush the teeth well before night nursing, as breast milk plus food can be cariogenic. As far as what we used to do, we didn’t used to eat food that lacked nutrition. Even avoiding processed foods isn’t enough these days to make sure your system is getting what it needs. And in particular some children may be more susceptible then others and you suddenly have to make changes that are not objectively healthier but are in your situation.

      Even with what I’m going through now, though, I would not interrupt my sleep to brush teeth in the middle of the night. I would instead be on a better lookout early on for signs that our diet/hygiene is not working as well as it should and make changes as necessary. We ended up night weaning b/c we were wanting to anyway for other reasons, and because the other changes we were making weren’t happening fast enough.

      I found this article interesting:

      http://jada.ada.org/content/144/2/143.full.pdf+html

      as far as the average lifespan, that has little relevance to baby teeth. also, i’ve read that when lifespans were shorter, it was due to infection and injury, but that old people lived almost as long as old people do today.

      Reply

      • SquintMom
        Jun 10, 2013 @ 07:53:32

        It’s important to remember that there’s a difference between what the science says and what is actually realistic or convenient to do. The science shows that breastmilk (even by itself) is mildly cariogenic. Does that mean all nursing moms HAVE TO brush their kids’ teeth in the middle of the night? No. Effective decision making is the result of combining an understanding of the fact — FACT: breastmilk is mildly cariogenic — with the realities of life (such as the logistical problems associated with brushing teeth in the middle of the night). This website is not about giving parents advice. Rather, I report on the science and break it into digestible chunks, and you can take those and decide, based upon your own circumstances and values, what you want to do with them.

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