Does Extended Breastfeeding Cause Cavities? Science Explains

Ad failed to load

I don't think anyone likes going to the dentist. It's not high up on the list of fun ways to spend an afternoon. Therefore, the best way to avoid added trips to the dentist is prevention. That's tricky when it comes to a wiggling baby who has no interest in oral hygiene. How can parents prevent cavities in our babies who are just cutting teeth, and what is most likely to cause them? For instance, is breastfeeding better than bottles on teeth or does extended breastfeeding cause cavities? Breast milk is known for being sweet, and the worry of tooth decay in toddlers can be consuming.

There is a lot of discussion surrounding the phenomenon known as "bottle rot," which is when babies are allowed to continually drink their milk from bottles past the age of infancy, and the prolonged exposure causes decay in the teeth, as per the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Recently, more studies have been highlighting a possible similar risk for those children who breastfeed into their second year for extended periods of time. One of these studies, published in Pediatrics, examined the effects of prolonged breastfeeding over the course of 12, 24, and 60 months postpartum. The study found no cause for concern until after the baby is 2 years old. 24 months seems to be the tipping point between healthy teeth and teeth more likely to be affected by dental issues.

Ad failed to load

This research is not without its detractors. The website for Dr. Sears, for instance, posted a rebuttal to the findings. The article noted that the study was too narrow in its scope and failed to examine the differences between night nursers or extended breastfeeding, bottle feeding, and children who are weaned from both. The article also claimed that most babies will get at least one or two cavities, and that to simply blame it on the action of breastfeeding may be hasty. The website also noted how genetics play a role in the amount of cavities, and that the study didn't examine that aspect of the children in the pool of subjects.

It's also important to look at what the world considers to be extended breastfeeding when examining if extended breastfeeding causes cavities. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that babies be breastfed for a period of two years. In most western culture, breastfeeding past the first year is considered prolonged. However, that's not the case worldwide. WHO has specific guidelines and nutritional charts that outline the needs and benefits of breastfeeding for those two years. The study that linked prolonged breastfeeding with increased potential for cavities did not determine the nutrition of the children apart from the breast milk given, which does not adequately examine if those children were suffering from nutritional deficiencies that could contribute to ill health in the body and the teeth.

Ad failed to load

As the website Kelly Mom pointed out, "Although breastfed children can get cavities, breast milk alone does not appear to be the cause. Foods other than breast milk tend to be the main problem." That means if your kid is noshing on fistfuls of raisins and then breastfeeding before heading to sleep at night, a cavity could happen. It's important to monitor your child's sugar intake and either clean their gums after feeding when possible, as per the suggestion of the New York State Department of Health, or brush their teeth if they have any.

Seriously — don't neglect the gums. The New York State Department Of Health suggested lifting the lips of your baby just to make sure nothing is hiding between the cheek and the teeth or gums, and to clean the area well. All you need is a soft toothbrush and clean water.

There are so many factors that work together to determine whether or not your child will get cavities, but the literature is conflicted as to whether or not extended breastfeeding is the cause. In the end, you'll make the call and do the best you can.

Ad failed to load

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

The Pressure To Worry About The Gap Between Kids Is So Bad For Moms

"Two under two is absolutely crazy," a friend recently told me upon hearing the news that I was expecting a second child. "Why would you do this to yourself? Seriously, why?" However harsh her words, she was only echoing the same feelings I'd been ba…
By Marie Southard Ospina

To Be Honest, I Couldn't Survive Motherhood Without My Job

The decision to work outside the home once you've become a parent can be a complicated one. Some people don't really have a choice, and go back to work because they're either a single parent or can't sustain their family on one income. Some choose to…
By Priscilla Blossom

I Feel Guilty That My Kid’s Dad Is A Better Parent Than Me, & That’s Bullsh*t

I was scared, and he was sure. I was clueless, and he was well-researched. I was making mistakes, and he was picking up the pieces. From the moment I found out I was pregnant until just last night, when I threw my hands up in the air and left the alw…
By Danielle Campoamor

These Millennial Parents Are Taking Gender-Neutral Parenting To An Entirely New Level

A woman on the subway looks at my bulbous shape and asks, “What are you having?” I take a deep breath and throw a glance to my 5-year-old. “I’m having a baby,” I say to the woman. “No, no” the woman says laughing as she pushes further. “Are you havin…
By Madison Young

I’m Registered At Babies “R” Us, & I'm Freaking The Hell Out

Hi. My name is Abi, and I’m registered at Babies “R” Us — and I’m freaking out. This may sound silly, but after being a die-hard Toys “R” Us kid, I was so excited to register at their baby store once my husband and I finally got our big fat positive …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

My Daughter Is Obsessed With Being "Pretty" & I'm Way Past Terrified

Last week, when I picked up my daughter after school, she immediately wanted to know if I liked her hair. "Is it pretty?" she asked. Her hair was pulled up into two ponytails that were intertwined into thick, long braids. A shimmering pink and purple…
By Dina Leygerman

7 Things No One Tells You About Having A Baby In Your 20s, But I Will

I was 24 when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. The pregnancy was a surprise, since I was on birth control (side note: antibiotics and birth control don't mix), but my partner and I decided to continue with the pregnancy and committed to m…
By Candace Ganger

Women Who Miscarry Early Deserve To Grieve — Here's How Hospitals Should Be Helping

When I lost my baby back in 2013, it was because of a very early miscarriage. Because of the little amount of time I spent being pregnant, it was though my child had never really existed, which made the next few years hard — I felt like they had been…
By Risa Kerslake

7 Things I Wish My Partner Had Said To Me In The First Hour After Giving Birth

I don't know if it was the buzz of the surrounding machines, the non-existent cry of our son as the doctors tried to resuscitate him, or the fact that I'd already been through labor and delivery once before, but I knew something was missing after I h…
By Candace Ganger

Moms’ Groups Weren’t For Me, Sorry

I go to my moms’ club everyday of the week, but not usually on weekends. My moms' group is a place I can always count on finding fellow mothers who understand the daily struggles and triumphs of parenthood and of juggling life’s responsibilities. Dep…
By Samantha Taylor

Millennial Women Are Getting Married Later Than Gen X, & The Reasons Why Are Pretty Badass

The battle of the generations seems to come up when it comes to every lifestyle or career choice people make. Women, especially, are an important demographic when it comes to analysts looking at the lifestyle choices we make or the expected milestone…
By Josie Rhodes Cook

I've Had 3 Miscarriages But *Please* Keep Telling Me About Your Pregnancy

I can feel the tension the moment my friend announces her pregnancy. I can hear the forced nonchalant attitude she's willing herself to exude as she fishes for the ultrasound. I know why I was the last to learn that she was expecting; why she keeps l…
By Danielle Campoamor

7 Early Signs You're Going To Need An Epidural, According To Experts

Even if you've constructed an elaborate birth plan, it's impossible to control every aspect of labor and delivery. Complications can occur, proactive measures might be necessary, and your mind is subject to change when those damn contractions really …
By Candace Ganger

I'm Pregnant & I Refuse To Read Any Parenting Books

I didn't read any parenting books when I was expecting my daughter, and I refuse to read any parenting books as I await my second child now. I'm the first to admit that I don't really know what I'm doing when it comes to raising my daughter. A good d…
By Marie Southard Ospina

7 Reasons Why March Babies Are Total Badasses

From the moment you become pregnant, you begin to wonder what your little one will be like. Will they look like you, your partner, or your Great Aunt Edna? Will they be the quiet, thoughtful type or arrive on this planet raring to go? It's fun to ima…
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

12 Overnight Face Masks To Use To Wake Up Feeling Pampered AF

Spring is right around the corner, and as far as I'm concerned, the sunshine and warm breezes can't come soon enough. But now that we're about to say goodbye to winter, it's a good time to take stock of your facial skincare routine. You know, in the …
By Katie Malczyk

11 Essential Products To Pack In Your Hospital Bag, According To OB-GYNs

The minute you go into labor (or think you're going into labor), chaos ensues. You and your partner are likely to get a little frantic, just like in the movies, so you most definitely want to have a hospital bag packed before the day comes. This prec…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

7 Photos You *Must* Take In The First 6 Months Of Motherhood

In my experience, becoming a mom is like becoming an amateur photographer. There's just something about the need to capture every single coo and sorta-smile that leaves you obsessed with all things photography. I know I couldn't stop taking selfies w…
By Candace Ganger

Here's How Early An Ultrasound Can Actually Determine Your Baby's Sex

From the moment you see those two lines on a pregnancy test, there are a few markers along the way that stand out as especially exciting. Amongst them are hearing your baby's heartbeat and feeling that first, sweet little kick. And if you are finding…
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

9 Easy Kid Foods To Turn Green, Just In Time For St. Patrick's Day

The best part about having kids is that you get your own personal crew to celebrate the holidays with, in all your color coordinating and matching glory. And with St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, you are obviously working on turning everyth…
By Mishal Ali Zafar