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Feeding Baby to Sleep and What it Means for Teeth

Strobel Dentistry

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When you’re a new parent, you’ll take pretty much anything that gets that baby to sleep! Very often that includes nursing or bottle feeding until your little one is out for the night. But what happens when your child starts to develop teeth? Is it time to break those bedtime habits?

There is little evidence to suggest that breast milk alone does anything to promote tooth decay. In fact, some studies suggest that the lactoferrin in breast milk may actually help to kill S. Mutans, the bacteria responsible for much of tooth decay. Breast milk also does not lower the pH of the mouth in the way that other liquids can; a low pH environment can encourage the proliferation of this bacteria.

Given that, there is no rush to wean a child from nighttime feeding immediately upon the appearance of that first tooth - especially since that can happen as early as 3 months! However, breast milk does contain sugars, as does formula (which can also create a more acidic oral environment). Allowing baby teeth to be bathed by sugary liquids for prolonged periods can increase the risk of tooth decay, especially if an older child is drinking juice or a similar high-sugar drink out of their bottle.

Baby bottle tooth decay can have some serious consequences for primary teeth, including crowns and extractions in extreme cases. Wondering why baby teeth are so important? They are crucial to the proper development of your child’s permanent teeth and jaw, as we’ve discussed on this blog before. Failure to take care of them can result in the misalignment of a child’s bite, malformed permanent teeth or painful infection.

Here are some tips to avoid excessive decay and keep that night feeding going longer:

  • Try to keep baby from falling asleep with unswallowed milk - remove the breast or bottle once your little one has fallen asleep.
  • Keep juice out of the bottle! Stick to breast milk, formula and water (for older babies).
  • Limit the introduction of your saliva to the equation once baby’s teeth start to come in - this will limit your baby’s exposure to S. Mutans. Avoid wet kisses, sharing spoons/sippy cups, or putting your baby’s pacifier in your mouth.
  • Aim to start weaning off nighttime feedings by one year old. For mothers who are still nursing at that point, day feedings can continue as long as you and your baby would like!

​Start with good oral hygiene right from the beginning!

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