There are many false myths that revolve around breastfeeding beyond six months, but perhaps one of the most widespread is the claim that prolonged breastfeeding causes cavities.
In Babies and More, we have explained on several occasions how cavities in the first baby teeth (also known as “baby bottle tooth decay” ) occur. But given the recent controversy that relates the appearance of cavities to prolonged breastfeeding, we once again insist on the importance of demolishing this false myth. Because no, prolonged breastfeeding does not cause cavities.
Caries in the first milk teeth
Baby bottle tooth decay or childhood tooth decay is a common oral problem in babies and young children, which consists of the destruction of the tooth as a result of the demineralization of the dental surface, due to the bacteria that feed on the remains that remain in the mouth.
Caries can appear from the first milk tooth. That is why it is essential to take care of oral hygiene since our children are babies, and carry out the corresponding follow-ups with the pediatric dentist.
Why are they produced?
The three main factors involved in caries are bacteria , sugars and certain risk factors that some people may have , such as enamel defects, irregular anatomy of the dental surface, certain diseases or pathologies…
Newly erupted baby teeth are especially susceptible to cavities , as they are still weak and not fully mineralized. If germs adhere to the tooth at this delicate stage and are not removed by proper brushing, there is a high risk of caries.
Does breastfeeding cause cavities?
Unfortunately, many mothers are advised to wean their children due to the presence of cavities in the first milk teeth. However, the Breastfeeding Advisory Committee of the Spanish Association of Pediatrics insists that there is no scientific evidence linking the appearance of caries with prolonged breastfeeding .
“Among other reasons, we cannot ignore the fact that if breastfeeding had been the cause of caries, findings would have been found in prehistoric populations and this has not been the case. On the other hand, the fact that the prevalence of caries in humans is much higher than that of other mammals suggests that there must be other factors involved, other than breast milk”
But in addition to these data, the Committee reminds us that the components of breast milk help protect oral health, since:
- It contains defense factors that inhibit bacterial growth , including: immunoglobulins (especially Ig A9), lactoferrin -which deprives bacteria of iron and only releases it in the presence of receptors in the intestine-, and enzymes, such as lysozyme and lactoperoxidases with antimicrobial action.
- It contains minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, and proteins such as casein that make breast milk favor the remineralization of the tooth.
- It contains components such as arginine and urea, which favor an increase in pH and therefore reduce demineralization .
- It contains an adequate pH (the pH of breast milk ranges between 7.1 and 7.7), which does not modify the pH in the oral environment.
All these components and their physiological action explain why breast milk itself is not cariogenic but rather the opposite, it prevents the development of caries.
The experts of the Breastfeeding Committee insist on the duty of all health professionals to protect and promote breastfeeding , correctly informing mothers based on scientific evidence:
“Stating that prolonged breastfeeding causes tooth decay, without a conclusive scientific basis, discredits the benefits of breastfeeding, blames mothers who choose to continue breastfeeding beyond two years and discourages others from continuing to do so, poorly advised by their own professional or pressured for a reason that lacks justification, thus failing to enjoy all the benefits of prolonged breastfeeding”.
And if the protective effect against cavities were not enough , Dr. Juan Carlos Pérez Varela, president of the Spanish Society of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics (SEDO), points out the important benefits that breastfeeding has on the child’s oral development, since :
- Contributes positively to the development of the chewing apparatus
- Prevents dentomaxillofacial anomalies , since it has been proven that sucking the nipple is the best exercise for proper growth and development of the mouth and jaw
- Prevents dental malocclusions
How can we avoid the appearance of caries in childhood?
Although the name “baby bottle tooth decay” might lead us to think that only the bottle can cause them, it is not entirely true. However, the appearance of cavities is more likely in those children who frequently fall asleep with the bottle in their mouth , since we will not be able to clean their teeth for a long time.
But in addition to avoiding this practice, there are several measures we can take to prevent the appearance of childhood caries :
- Avoid sugary drinks that can harm the oral health of babies or young children, such as juices, soft drinks, infusions… In addition to being completely unsuitable for their diet , they have a high cariogenic potential.
- Do not impregnate the pacifier with sugary foods such as honey, juices, sweets… Well, in addition to increasing the risk of obesity, this practice increases the chances of developing cavities.
- Whether you opt for breastfeeding or artificial feeding, it is essential to start oral hygiene early from the appearance of the first tooth. We can start by cleaning your gums and teeth with a small damp gauze after eating and before sleeping.
- As the child grows, brushing their teeth should be incorporated into daily hygiene , but parents must ensure that they do it correctly and that they use the toothpaste corresponding to their age.
- According to experts, tobacco smoke would affect children who are passive smokers, increasing the risk of suffering from cavities. One more reason to protect children from smoky environments .
- The germs responsible for cavities are easily transmitted through saliva. That is why experts recommend not cleaning their pacifiers , teats, spoons… with our saliva, not sharing cutlery, not biting their food, not kissing them on the mouth… In addition, avoiding these practices will help prevent the spread of diseases much more serious.
In summary, prolonged breastfeeding per se is not linked to the appearance of caries in childhood , and in addition, it brings great benefits to the child’s health (including oral health). Caries appear due to a host of factors that we can mostly prevent.