Night nursing and tooth rot.

A question I have been asked many times in the past is whether frequent night feeding increases the risk of tooth decay.

Presuming we’re talking about boobing, this is what happens in my brain when I get asked that question:

My head theory says no.  Because despite there being risk factors associated with regular intakes of boob juice, because it does contain sugars as such, boob juice sugars are not classed as cariogenic – translation: not a priority meal for the acid pooing bacteria that melts teeth.  Well certainly not in the same way that Non-Milk Extrinsic Sugars (NMEs) are cariogenic. Plus, from what we know about how babies feed from the boob, the nipple gets taken too far back in the mouth to interfere with any of the little teggers.  Shame those sharp little pearly whites don’t have the same respect for the fragile and sensitive nipplet when they decide to have a nibble.

Kellymom, as usual, has a reasonably good page on the subject. However, research is pretty low on the ground.  Systematic reviews do show no correlation between breastfeeding and tooth decay, even prolonged breastfeeding.  Probably because regular intake of NMEs has a far more devastating effect on tooth enamel than breastmilk or formula milk (unless the formula milk contains sugars/syrups which some do so check the ingredients. The market leaders won’t contain harmful sugars.)

A very recent piece of research looked into the flora and fauna of the mouth between boobing babies and formula babies by testing their saliva.  It noted that babies receiving partial or exclusive boob milk showed signs of increased incidence of Lactobacilli, indigenous to boob milk, which suppresses the main bacteria that causes tooth decay – translation: boob juice contains a bacteria that stops tooth decay. However, it wasn’t found in all boobing babies, only 30% of the 70 or so babies included in the study.  Why didn’t all the boobing baby’s saliva show up this decay-reducing bacteria? Is it more to do with the genetics of the saliva having the ability to house Lactobacilli – translation: are some people’s saliva naturally better at warding off tooth decay and therefore they pass that down to their baby? Bottle feeding has shown an increased risk of tooth decay in infants, but is there any evidence to compare babies bottle fed formula or babies fed expressed breast milk?

As well as the large number of different immune cells, boob juice contains a protein called Lactoferrin, which wards off decay-causing bacteria.  However, this is also naturally found in saliva which leads me back to the “are some people’s saliva naturally better at blah blah blah” question.

So here is my own conclusion:

Regardless of whether you boob or decant, how many fillings do you have? Have you ever been told you have ‘weak enamel’? Were your fillings really down to your weak enamel or down to a shit load of Haribo?

Advice: Genetics plays a big part so keep sugar to an absolute minimum. Try and attempt a twice daily brush with a baby toothbrush and a smear of toothpaste.  It doesn’t have to be vigorous and can even be just baby chewing on the toothbrush to begin with.  Preferably before breakfast and before bed.

Do you boob frequently at night?

Advice: Brushing teeth before bed will be more important especially with a smear of toothpaste.  Baby can be left to chew toothbrush but make sure chewing on teeth and not just on gums.  If baby doesn’t tolerate brushing, try just smearing some toothpaste around the teeth with a muslin cloth.

Does your baby regularly bottle feed at night?

Advice: Regardless of boob juice or formula, try to avoid leaving baby with the bottle.  As much as this is a pain in the arse, the baby may not finish all the milk at once and may leave milk pooling in the mouth.  This will increase the contact time of the milk sugars against the teeth and therefore increase the risk of decay. Brushing teeth before bed and first thing before breakfast with a smear of toothpaste will be very important.

Does your baby prefer bottles to sippy cups and beakers?

Advice: Occasional treats are completely fine especially at mealtimes.  I give my children apple juice as a special treat. Aren’t they lucky. However, do try to avoid anything other than milk or water in bottles/sippy cups/beakers.  Drinks are often sipped very frequently throughout the day and anything other than milk or water will dramatically increase the incidence of tooth decay. 

So in a nutshell – brush teeth regularly/allow baby to chew a toothpasty toothbrush.  Be more fastidious the morning after the marathon night feeding session.  Keep NMEs in the diet to a minimum.

This is the same advice I would give any parent – boobing or not – baby, infant, toddler or child.

I’m not entirely sure whether this answers the original question. But at least you got to see a diagram of what the inside of my head looks like.

3 thoughts on “Night nursing and tooth rot.

  1. Very interesting, thanks! Here’s our current toothbrushing routine: I say to my 15 month old little girl ‘it’s tooth time!’ and she cries out, reaching a desperate hand towards her penguin toothbrush. She then spends 10 mins chewing the wrong end, bashing it against the radiator (makes a great noise!) and possibly cleaning behind the u-bend with it… right, time for some serious brushing, oh your mouth’s clamped shut now, GREAT! I will, from tomorrow, be pursuing this venture twice daily as you suggest. BUT would you agree that if she REFUSES to let me brush her teeth regularly, it is better to let her off and try again tomorrow than to wrestle her to the ground and force the penguin in, lest I give her a toothbrush phobia?

    1. Ha ha! Yes, all easier said that done! I have one of those…a toothbrush refuser. He also still likes a bottle of milk at naps times *slaps back of hand* so this is what I do….

      He loves running water and seems to brush his teeth along side me if I leave water trickling out of the tap. I say brushing, it’s more wetting toothbrush, sucking water from the bristles, chews it a bit and then starts the process all over again. Occasionally, he’ll let me give the front ones a scrub, but mostly that is a two person job. I find hanging him upside down and tickling so he laughs and then ramming the toothbrush in his mouth is effective. However, all these efforts and I still notice every 2-3 days, his teeth looking a bit dingy and yellow so the only option then is to pin him down and scrub – again a two person job!

      Yes, they can develop massive aversions to toothbrushing, but you have to weight that up with the pain of treating tooth decay. It’s incredibly difficult in very young children.

      Also, with my first, when she was old enough, we played a lot of Dentist role play – I let her inspect and brush my teeth and she would then let me do hers. She is now an enthusiastic brusher. I can’t say I’m that confident that The Boy will be, so until then, I play nice for a few days, but then it’s a pin down job!!

      My advice: Let her watch you brush as much as possible and do it at random times of day, dancing and prancing to songs with the toothbrush etc so it isn’t perceived as just another chore which always has to be in the bathroom. Children love watching themselves in mirrors so making it a funny faces/noises mirror game is also effective. Seconds will make all the difference so don’t worry about minutes brushing at the moment. You can work up to that and by the age of 3 be aiming for 30 seconds to a minute or so brushing. But if all else fails and you’re just too knackered to be buggering about. Just be mean Mummy and wrestle. It is worth it in the long run!

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