Article written by guest blogger, Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC
I don’t know many people who love going to the dentist. You know, you are reclined in the lounge chair, told to relax, and keep your mouth open as someone takes metal mirrors, mini ice picks, and drills and plays around inside your mouth for 30-45 minutes.
Now you want a toddler to do this? Did you see the latest installment of the Twilight Saga? Toddler vampires are illegal because they throw tantrums and kill entire villages.
Oral hygiene is very important. It can affect your entire health, good or bad. Poor oral hygiene has been linked to diabetes and heart disease. So what are we to do about oral health of our nursing preschoolers?
The first thing to do is find a child friendly dentist and bring your baby around his first birthday. Make sure the atmosphere is fun, yet not too overwhelming that they have pintsized sunglasses and silly stickers.
Be prepared for some education. I mean, you may need to educate your dentist. You may have a conversation about your nursing history. If you are nursing our baby and at night (really – does your baby actually sleep through the night?) you might get something like this:
“You should not be breastfeeding at night, it will cause dental caries. And if you do, you must wipe your baby’s teeth with cotton gauze after each feeding.”
Does this dentist live with you? Has she ever nursed a toddler? Does she want to come over and put your baby back to sleep? Has she read the American Dental Association’s statement?
Here it is – the title is Study Finds No Association Between Breastfeeding and Early Childhood Caries
What really causes cavities? Here are a few main contributing factors:
- Diet: a diet high in sugar including dry fruit, sugary treats, especially those that are sticky and do not dissolve, fruit juices and sodas
- Bacteria Strep mutans
- Poor oral hygiene – both the infant and family
- Enamel defects
- Saliva flow: a dry mouth is more likely to develop caries
- Mother taking antibiotics while baby is in utero.
Bottles are different than breasts. When a child nurses at the breast, the milk goes to the back of the throat – it does not pool around the teeth the way it does when a child takes a bottle.
What can you do?
As with parenting in general – be a good role model. Go to the dentist regularly and brush your teeth regularly. Eat a healthy diet of whole foods. Avoid sugary foods, except in small quantities and for special occasions. And, then brush your teeth!
If you have poor oral health, do not share food with your child directly from your mouth. You could pass the bacteria Strep mutans to him.
There is research that strongly supports pre-mastication for babies and young children as saliva can support the immune system; however, if your mouth is full of cavities you can pass that on as well. If you have a healthy mouth, bite off that piece of Granny Smith apple and feed it to your baby
Let your baby see you brush your teeth. Let your baby brush your teeth! Make it fun. Brush each other’s teeth.
Let your baby help you in the kitchen, in the garden, and in the grocery store. These are all teaching moments. You can build upon the strong foundation you began with breastfeeding.
Babies get cavities in spite of breastfeeding, not because of it.
To learn more go to:
Did your pediatrician or dentist tell you that breastfeeding causes cavities?
Leigh Anne O'Connor is Lactation Consultant in Private Practice in New York City, as well as a La Leche League Leader. Her blog is Mama Milk and Me. She lives with her husband, Rob, and their three children, Phoebe, Chloe & Finn.