Breastfeeding And Tooth Decay: Are The Two Inexorably Linked?

How long should you breastfeed your baby? The World Health Organization advises mothers to breastfeed their babies up to the age of two and even longer if they wish to do so. For the first six months of life, babies should be fed breast milk exclusively, according to the organization.

While some mothers try to breastfeed their babies for as long as possible, most start to wean their babies off breast milk by the age of six months. But what if you decide to continue breastfeeding your baby beyond this point? Is it harmful to your baby? In most respects, it is not. However, new studies have shown that tooth decay and late-stage breastfeeding go hand in hand. 

New Studies Weigh In 

A study documenting the effects of late-stage breastfeeding, showed that children who were breastfed after the age of two often had severe tooth decay. Conducted by the University of California, the study is being used to support the link between breastfeeding and tooth decay that many dentists have been talking about for years. Up till now, there has not been any definitive evidence that such a link existed. However, dentists have been warning mothers about the link for years. 

Age of Child an Important Factor

New evidence shows that the age of the child when it is breastfed matters a great deal. In fact, the longer a child is breastfed the more likely they are to have dental problems. Children who consume a great deal of breast milk after the age of two, have a little less than 50 percent chance of developing cavities. Breast milk isn't the only culprit of tooth decay either in infants. Toddlers who continue to nurse a bottle are also at high risk. 

How to Prevent Tooth Decay in Infants

Fortunately, breast milk doesn't have many tooth-decaying properties. Babies develop tooth decay because the saliva in their mouth is not able to get to and break down bacteria found on the gums and teeth. So, decay is more related to the way babies latch on to the breast and suck than the breast milk itself. For this reason, dentists recommend cleaning your baby's gums with a damp cloth after each feeding to prevent tooth decay. 

If you breastfeed your baby, it's very important to clean your baby's gums regularly, even if your baby doesn't have teeth. Once your baby's teeth start to erupt, you should brush them with infant-approved toothpaste and an infant toothbrush.