There is a lot of information out there that supports breastfeeding for at least a year or more, but breastfeeding also comes with some downsides. New research has revealed that children who are breastfed up to two years or more are significantly more likely to have tooth decay.

What Causes Decay?
It’s not actually the breast milk that causes the tooth decay seen in the new studies. The actual milk is very healthy for children. However, it’s the sucking motion that is causing the damage. When babies suck milk from their mother’s breast or from a bottle, they seal their teeth off and prevent saliva from coating their new teeth. Since saliva is what kills off bacteria, baby’s teeth are becoming more susceptible to an assortment of bacteria that eventually decay their teeth.

This is an unfortunate side effect of long-term breastfeeding even though the actual milk gives babies the nutrients they need to grow and develop. The question is, is there a solution that will allow infants to keep drinking breast milk but avoid tooth damage?

The Study
The recent six month study was led by Benjamin Chaffee at the University of California, Berkeley. He gathered together a group of 458 babies in Alegre, Brazil and studied the effects of long-term breastfeeding. His team checked on the children when they were six, 12, and 36 months old in order to track the effects of breastfeeding.

While most of the children started eating solid foods at about 12 months of age, 40% of the children who breastfed between six and 24 months had some sort of tooth decay by the end of the study. It was also found that 48% of the children who breastfed for over two years had significant tooth decay.

The research team assures parents and other researchers that the study doesn’t prove that breast milk causes cavities. The saliva is the real issue. However, this can easily be solved by cleaning your infant’s teeth according to Dr. William Bowen, professor emeritus in the Center for Oral Biology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in New York.

Cleaning Your Infant’s Teeth

A wet cloth is all you need to remove food stains and food debris from your infant’s teeth and mouth. Dr. Bowen also says that weaning your child off of breast milk is a decision that needs to be between the parents and their pediatrician.

The World Health Organization still recommends that children be breastfed for at least six months, but they also recommend breastfeeding for over two years. If you feel like your child’s teeth are experiencing decay, see your pediatrician for more information about tooth cleaning and when to wean your child.

Innes, E. (2014, March 17). How breast might not always be best: Babies breastfed for two years are more likely to have tooth decay. Mail Online.