Hello, Moms, I want to bring your attention to a serious issue. It’s sad but true: Our beautiful breastfed babies are not immune to dental decay. I have personal experience with this and have done some research that I’d like to share.
Here’s the gist of it: One of the most reputable and commonly-cited studies published in the 2007 American Association of Pediatrics Journal (Iida H,Auinger P, Billings RJ, Weitzman M.) concludes that while there is no increased incidence of tooth decay with breastfed babies over formula (I think we knew that), infant tooth decay is still extremely prevalent: this study found that between 20% - 30% of breastfed children had some kind of dental decay by the time they were toddlers. That's a little daunting. A couple other studies have turned up a similar statistic, but many of them seem to have poor controls and dubious methodology. But still, if studies continue to bear this out, it is huge.
We know it irks us breastfeeding moms to no end when we are bombarded by media saying that on-demand feeding and night feeding causes dental decay - why should this be the case when this is the natural and normal way to feed our children? Surely all children through history did not have their baby teeth rotting out, right? (Drs Palmer, B and Torney, H). That would be, as Dr. Brian Palmer puts it, “evolutionary suicide.” Studies on frequency of feeding and night feeding have had mixed results. But as near as a historical perspective can show, this seems to be a modern problem. So where is it coming from? Different diets for moms and kids? Different tooth structure? Super-bacteria? Research is not showing any answers yet.
However, we need to try to put aside our annoyance and accept that regardless of the natural and historical perspective, the problem absolutely does exist here and now. My own personal experience reinforces this. My son had to have all his upper teeth capped at 18 months due to severe early dental decay. He didn’t eat sugary foods or juice, he was just a free and frequent round-the-clock nurser. Two other regulars in my breastfeeding group had four children between them (all older, aged 3 - 7 years) with virtually identical nutrition and nursing patterns and no dental decay.
I’m certainly not saying don’t feed on-demand, or night-feed! I'm saying check and clean your child’s teeth as often as possible and get them to a dentist before age one - in case you're one of the unlucky ones, like me. I actually spotted the buildup on my child’s teeth at about 7 months, but our pediatrician said it was nothing to worry about. He was wrong. Monitoring and cleaning teeth is really pretty easy, and doesn’t have to interfere in a natural breastfeeding lifestyle. Maybe we can’t manage the level of perfection that our dentists recommend, but we should do whatever we can. Risk factors to watch for may include early tooth eruption, very frequent nursing, family history of tooth decay, and lack of fluoridated water - although that last one is a matter for much debate, too.
The point is, all you have to do is check and clean as much as you can – a good close watch on those first erupting teeth may help to catch a problem before it gets out of control.
If you want more information that is as open and unbiased as possible, please check out the Kelly Mom website or the National Institute of Health (nih.gov).