Can Breastfeeding Lead To Cavities? Experts Warn Mothers Not To Breastfeed Their Babies For Too Long

New research suggests that extended breastfeeding could cause cavities in babies who do so for two years or longer.

A new study published this week in the journal Pediatrics and cited by the New York Daily News in a report suggests that children who are breastfed for at least two years are more susceptible to dental cavities. This is based on data gathered from over 1,000 children in Brazil, who were followed up on until they reached 5-years-old. At that time, dentists checked the kids for signs of tooth decay, missing teeth, and dental cavities, both minor and severe.

Based on the study, children who spent at least two years being breastfed were 2.4 times more likely to have severe cavities, as compared to kids who were breastfed for under as year. But why does it seem that children who breastfeed for so long find themselves more susceptible to such dental problems?

In a statement, lead author Dr. Karen Peres of the University of Adelaide in Australia explained that the children who were breastfed by their mothers for more than 24 months were usually those who asked to be breastfed in the evening, or “on demand.” She stressed that this tendency makes it harder for the kids’ teeth to be cleaned, thus putting them at risk of cavities and other dental issues.

On the other hand, there are other sources that dispute the belief that breastfeeding causes cavities. A blog post from the Australian Breastfeeding Association mentioned that there were a few studies in the 1970s and the 1980s that made such a conclusion, but the findings were based on an extremely small number of test subjects, as well as an “inadequate” understanding of how breastfeeding works.

According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, newer studies suggest that breast milk has antibodies that could slow down bacterial growth in babies, including the growth of the bacteria that cause tooth decay. That suggests that breastfeeding prevents cavities, instead of causing them, but it’s also worth noting that the blog post did not make any mention of the length of time in which babies are allowed to nurse before they become at potential risk of tooth decay.

Despite the somewhat conflicting information on breastfeeding cavities, American Dental Association spokeswoman Dr. Ruchi Sahota, who was not involved in the study, said that the most powerful tools mothers can use to ensure their kids don’t get cavities are preventive measures that should be used as early as possible, and especially if a mother chooses to breastfeed her child beyond 24 months.

“Even breast milk has sugar in it. That’s why babies love it,” Sahota said, as quoted by CNN.

“So that’s also why we need to make sure we’re wiping down baby’s gums after they eat with a moist cloth. And then brushing the teeth twice a day, when they come in, with a rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. And it’s really important to see your family dentist.”

Aside from the above-mentioned measures, Sahota added that proper education on the best dental practices is another necessary tool, regardless of breastfeeding practices, when it comes to mothers preventing cavities in young children.

[Featured Image by Alik Mulikov/Shutterstock]