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Perhaps it was because our clinic happened to be based in one of the more deprived areas of London that our health visitors were particularly hot on tooth brushing. Ameli received her first toothbrush and toothpaste set at around two months of age, while her first teeth arrived at four months. The second set came at eight months, and since then we’ve pretty much been non-stop teething.

As for toothbrushing, it’s kind of more a game in our home. I give Ameli her tiny little toothbrush when I’m brushing my teeth. She kind of chews on it a little, munches on it and swirls it around in her mouth and then gives it back. How much cleaning goes on, I can’t really say. But I do know that I’m not willing to force my little girl’s mouth open to shove in a toothbrush then try to explain to her to spit out the toothpaste.
Of course this led me to wondering whether I’m doing the right thing, so I had to start doing a bit of reasearch.

According to an article at KellyMom, “Before the use of the baby bottle, dental decay in baby teeth was rare. Two dentists, Dr. Brian Palmer and Dr. Harold Torney, have done extensive research on human skulls (from 500-1000 years ago) in their study of tooth decay in children. Of course these children were breastfed, probably for an extended length of time. Their research has led them to conclude that breastfeeding does not cause tooth decay.

One of the reasons for nighttime bottles causing tooth decay is the pooling of the liquid in baby’s mouth (where the milk/juice bathes baby’s teeth for long periods of time). Breastmilk is not thought to pool in the baby’s mouth in the same way as bottled milk because the milk doesn’t flow unless the baby is actively sucking. Also, milk from the breast enters the baby’s mouth behind the teeth. If the baby is actively sucking then he is also swallowing, so pooling breast milk in the baby’s mouth appears not to be an issue.”

We all know already that breastmilk is an incredible “live” substance. It contains live cells and antibodies, and has antibacterial properties.

On teeth, a bacteria called strep mutans causes tooth decay. Strep Mutans uses food sugars to produce acid, and it is this acid that causes decay. Strep Mutans thrives on sugars, low amounts of saliva and low ph-levels in the saliva (the last two can be eased by ensuring you/your baby drinks enough water).

Breastmilk contains a substance called Lactoferrin. Colostrum has the highest concentration of Lactoferrin, followed by human milk, then cow’s milk. Lactoferrin is one of the components of the immune system of the body, and has antimicrobial activity – meaning it’s a bacteriocide and a fungicide.

When it comes to night nursing, breast-fed babies are at less risk of tooth decay due to the antibacterial properties, so it’s safe to feed them at night and even let them fall asleep while feeding. Breast milk can also discourage tooth decay from improper brushing after meals well beyond infancy and into toddlerhood.

However, there is a ‘however’. Enamel defects can occur when the first teeth are forming in utero. If there are small defects in the tooth enamel, the teeth are more vulnerable and the protective effect of breastmilk may not be enough to counteract the combined effect of the bacteria and the sugars in the milk.

The problem is that you might not necessarily know if there is a defect in the enamel, so you should ensure oral hygiene as best you can. I’m still not convinced that that’s by shoving a toothbrush into a refusing child’s mouth but hopefully some of these tips will come in handy.

Tips:

  • Cut sucrose from the diet as much as possible. Sucrose is the only form of sugar strep mutans can use to form polysaccharide – the sticky substance that forms plaque.
  • Avoid spoon sharing, wet kisses or putting a dummy in your mouth before giving it to your baby as this shares saliva, which introduces Strep Mutans
  • Linda Folden Spooner from Mothering.com suggests the following :
    • The use of the cavity-fighting sugar, xylitol, might be the easiest of beneficial efforts. Xylitol mouth rinses, mints, and gums are available.
    • Decaf green tea is cavity fighting. Sweeten with a little xylitol and carry it around in a water bottle. If your dentist pushes fluoride, you can tell him your child is getting clean and natural fluoride from tea.
    • One contributing factor in some child decay situations is the flora in mother’s mouth. Some moms who focus the bulk of their time on quality parenting find little time left to care for themselves. If you have a decay problem yourself, you now have an excuse to focus more time on your own dental hygiene, for the sake of your child.
  • From KellyMom:
    • Give him a sip of water after meals to wash food particles away
    • Don’t allow baby to carry a cup or a bottle around during the day. This results in a constant “bathing” of baby’s teeth with whatever he’s drinking.
    • Decay is directly related to the amount of contact time of a sugary substance with the teeth. Avoid too many sugary, sticky foods as well, and talk to your dentist about the amount of fluoride in your drinking water (ed: some cities add fluoride to drinking water).

14 Comments

Do Breastfed Babies/Toddlers Need To Brush Their Teeth?

  1. It’s good to hear that. I may share this to mom’s in the center where I am working at present. I have been breastfeeding my son for four years and I am happy with the result. Less expenses on buying canned milk, less visit to the dentist coz he got good teeth and he always got good grades in school. Breastfeed kids are intelligent so they say and I think it holds true.

  2. Wow, thanks for this. My sister still do breastfeed, but she’s already 3, so she do both – bottle feeding and breast feeding, good thing she always insist to brush her teeth.

  3. Interesting post. I would never brush during the night after breastfeeding, but it is pretty impossible to remove ALL sucrose from diet to eliminate brushing completely see here: http://nutritiondata.self.com/foods-000009000000000000000.html

    Whilst breastmilk as a whole protects the teeth absolutely as you say – breastmilk + food particles containing sucrose + strep bacteria = party in the mouth! You can’t know if baby has bacteria so really is it worth not brushing? Kellymom states before bottles there was no decay – but there was also no strep mutans either!

  4. For further information on the nutritional part involved in healthy teeth, please check http://www.curetoothdecay.com That is where I learned a LOT from and we cured our toddlers tooth decay a couple of years ago and prevented it from happening with the next one.
    The writer of the book Ramiel Nagel used the information from Weston A Price to put together this information.
    I am eternally grateful to him for writing his book, as it saved my child from painful extractions and other dental work.

  5. Check out Weston A. Price’s “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” — he is a Dentist that travelled to different cultures around the world to research their teeth. He discovered that these cultures’ teeth, if flour and corn was not yet introduced by the missionaries….., that their teeth were flawless and their jaws were nice and big and well-structured. This was the same for many cultures, so he concludes that surely genetics don’t play a role. What is the common denominator? These people ate meat and saturated fat.

  6. Mikko has the worst teeth, and it makes me feel like a terrible mother. 🙁 Even though I know it’s genetic, because I had the same ordeals as a kid! We both have very grooved teeth, so bacteria like to find hidey-holes and take up residence, and the enamel isn’t very strong. Our dentist didn’t discourage breastfeeding at night but said to rinse with water and/or swipe his teeth with a wet gauze after every night nursing — um, good idea, I guess, but who’s conscious enough to do that? And who wants to wake up/irritate their baby or toddler several times a night? Oh, well!

    I’m with you, in that in my own research, I felt confident that breastmilk was protective rather than the reverse. We just try to be diligent about brushing twice a day, and our dentist recently gave us a list of snacks to be picky about — sticky things, sweet things, crackers = dangerous for teeth because they’re hard to get out; things like string cheese, milk, and veggies do better because they’re less likely to stay around decaying. Of course, with a picky three-year-old, we’re often glad he wants to eat at all!

  7. Great info! I also let my daughter (she’s 22 months) brush her teeth herself (or whatever you want to call that :)). Some nights and mornings she does more chewing than brushing but she’s getting the hang of it slowly but surely. I use a toothpaste that has no fluoride and is safe in case swallowed. I love the tip about the decaf green tea! I had no idea! My daughter’s only beverage (besides breastmilk) is water but maybe I could add some of that on occasion. 🙂

  8. Thanks for the info. I worry about my kids teeth. I start them at the dentist on their first birthday. I knew breast milk and xylitol were good, but I didn’t know about green tea. All of us drink it, YEAH! I carry xylitol gum with me, just in case we rush out the door and I forgot to remind the 4 year old to brush. My dentist says chewing on the toothbrush helps.

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