Breastfeeding and Tooth Decay

I have been blissfully co-sleeping and nursing my 23 month old daughter and had every intention of continueing to let her guide the weaning process. She has cavities and is going to require to be under general anaesthetic to have fillings. The dentists are saying that it is because I nurse her throughout the night. The thought of telling her she may not nurse fills me with dread – it just feels so cruel. I am wondering what you suggest about 1) When she goes under the anaesthetic she cant eat the night before – how can I get through the night with no breastfeeding? and 2) Should I be trying to at least cut down on the night nursing to prevent further cavities?

Plenty of children who do not nurse during the night develop cavities too. Juices, acidic foods, sticky foods and of course sweets are the causes of cavities. There is not good evidence that breastmilk can cause decay; it doesn’t in laboratory tests and it’s certainly not seen in other mammals. The milk sugar, lactose, is specially protected from bacteria and is not broken down into simpler sugars until it reaches the intestines. 

Still, there are some who are determined that having any kind of food in the mouth during the night can increase the development of cavities, including breastmilk. I’ve heard of plenty of moms who reduced or ended night nursing when they found their children to be cavity-prone. In some, there is no improvement seen. In those who have seen improvement, there are typically other changes in diet and in dental care at the same time so there is no way of knowing whether the night nursing was a factor.

If your daughter is one to experience reflux or spitting up along with nursing, this could be the cause of cavities and its effect would be stronger during the night when saliva is not rinsing the teeth well. The acid from reflux can cause decay and if night feeding causes nighttime reflux, then the night nursing can be indirectly to blame. The most common cause of reflux is intolerance of cow’s milk proteins, including those acquired during nursing, through the breastfeeding mother’s diet. 

Your best bet is to be certain your daughter’s teeth are very clean before going to bed. This reduces the load of cavity-causing bacteria on tooth surfaces. If there is any other food left hiding in her mouth, it can feed cavity-causing bacteria during the night.

How can you get through the night with no breastfeeding before anesthesia? It’s not going to be your favorite night. You may wish to hand express or pump some of your milk during the night to prevent engorgement. It’s pretty much a given that your baby will cry. Try a pacifier and certainly any other means of comforting. Breastmilk is digested and absorbed very quickly and should probably fall somewhere between the time recommendations for food consumption and those for water consumption, but this has not been researched.

There are means of helping decay areas to heal. Some smaller cavities may respond to such treatments and not need any drilling at all. This is an in-depth topic that would require your online research. Veryyoungkidsteeth is a helpful Yahoo chat group you may learn from.