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Breastfeeding and Tooth Decay

It is very common for parents to blame prolonged breastfeeding for the early onset of tooth decay. Though most parents think this is factual, it is not. As a matter of fact, there are no sufficient amount of scientific evidence that conclude breastfeeding indeed causes tooth decay. This belief may have only stemmed from a small number of case reports and on the inadequate knowledge of most dentists on breastfeeding.

Recent studies and research, in fact, suggest that breastfeeding may protect against tooth decay. Certain antibodies in breastmilk stops bacterial growth including Steptococcus mutans which is the bacteria that causes tooth decay.  The Lactoferrin, which is a protein found in breastmilk, kills Steptococcus.

Formula, however, may potentially cause tooth decay since it significantly dissolves tooth enamel and support bacterial growth.

How different is breastfeeding from bottle feeding?

The two feeding methods have obvious differences. In bottle-feeding, the milk gets released in the front of the mouth and gets around teeth. Whereas, in breastfeeding, the nipple reaches the back of the babies’ mouth and the milk gets released into the throat thus helping the baby to swallow.

Furthermore, when a baby falls asleep with a bottle on his mouth, chances are that the teat will continue  to leak milk on the baby’s mouth. The breast, on the other hand, does not release milk not unless the nipples are sucked.

What about our ancestors? Did they suffer from tooth decay?

According to certain archaeological studies, children from prehistoric times rarely suffered from tooth decay. Most babies during prehistoric times are said to have been breastfed and certain studies also stated that some even slept with their mothers and were breastfed during the night.

Factors responsible for the development of tooth decay

* Frequent sugar intake. Avoid exposing babies to sugar filled food and drink.
* Bacteria entering a baby’s mouth. This bacteria can be inadvertently passed by kissing a child on the mouth, sharing spoons or drinks.
* Salivary disorders
* Maternal illness or stress during pregnancy
* Poor oral hygiene of the family
* Family genetics

In Summary

There are sufficient pieces of evidence that disprove the notion that breastfeeding causes tooth decay. Breastmilk alone does not contribute to tooth decay. Babies who are purely breastfed, however, are not immune to decay because there are still several factors that can increase the risk of tooth decay.