Have you heard of "baby bottle mouth"? Many people (including many dentists), say that breastfeeding causes tooth decay in babies, and especially breastfeeding throughout the night. Is that true? Can breastfeeding cause tooth decay, and what should you do if your breastfed child has dental cavities?
When my (then still breastfed) son was nearly two years old, we noticed some discoloration on his top front teeth. I took him to the dentist right away, obviously to get the cavities filled. I was told to stop breastfeeding... at the very least during the night. The very same dentist who told me that breast milk (because it contains lactose, which is sugar) causes cavities, also said that sucking on a lemon throughout the day would be fine. The reality, fortunately, is a little different.In truth, no link between breastfeeding and dental cavities has been proven at all.
Formula, like other food, has been linked to dental cavities, and milk pooling inside the mouth for long periods of time is probably what causes the so-called baby bottle mouth. Breast milk does not pool in the mouth, and is not cariogenic by itself. In other words, breast milk does not cause dental decay. Dental decay is caused by bacteria (strep mutans), which feed on sugars and produce acid.After doing a lot of reading, I concluded that there was no way that weaning my son would be beneficial for his teeth.
I did consider night weaning for a little while, and actually tried it (More about that attempt here: Is nightweaning possible?). Something that was interesting to me was the theory that teeth need remineralization during the night, so that natural enamel and other elements of the tooth can be restored. Saliva plays a key role in this process, and breast milk may get in the way of remineralizing.
Also, teeth that have even tiny traces of solid foods, juices, etc, will be harmed even more by breast milk, which may cause the food traces to "swish" around inside the mouth, causing cavities.The conclusion? Well, there are many alternative theories about dental care. At the end of the day, I did not buy into either the ultra-conservative dentistry practiced in the country we live in, nor the theories about healing tooth decay with butter and fish oil. Brushing teeth is important, as is a healthy diet rich in the necessary vitamins and minerals. If your child already has early childhood caries, breastfeeding will not make it worse. If you don't want to wean your child, you have no reason to do so.