Update: to be absolutely clear, I am talking about children who nurse frequently for two years or more in this post. Not little wee babies.
I wrote the better part of this post at the dentist’s office, waiting for The Princess to wake up after having nine fillings done. We opted to have her put under so that the experience wouldn’t turn her off dentists forever, given her ability to hold a grudge for years. I’d say the whole experience was rather uneventful, especially when you compare it to her first hair cut where she grabbed the stylist’s scissors and tried to stab the poor woman. Being unconscious definiltely helped.
Despite a fabulous toothy grin, I knew that her teeth were bad.
Over the years, I’ve asked various doctors and dentists about having her teeth checked. I worried after I heard horror stories of nursing caries caused by night nursing and I was particularly concerned about a dark spot in her one back tooth. Each time I asked about an appointment, I was told that kids don’t start their check ups until age 3 or 4 and the first visit is just a fun ‘meet the dentist’ type appointment. So I put it off rather than listening to my gut. I’m annoyed because I ignored the bad feeling in the pit of my stomach and listened to “the experts” instead. On the other hand, I’m even more ticked off at the dentists who brushed off my concerns for the past couple years.
When we finally brought The Princess for her first dentist appointment last month, they said that it was bad. They told me to lay off the juice and they asked if she was drinking enough milk. We were told that she would need some fillings and then we were referred to a specialist who would be able to do the work while The Princess’ slept. A few weeks later we went for our initial consultation in the specialist’s office. At that point, I didn’t even know how many cavities she had.
When the dentist came in that day, he looked in her mouth and then he looked at me and he asked “what do you feed her?!” in an incredulous voice. Hmmm… Maybe she had more cavities than I realized.
”Does she eat dried fruit?”
“Not too much. Not at home, at least.” Remembering what our dentist said, I added, “She drinks juice, but we’re trying to cut back.”
“Juice didn’t cause this.”
That nagging feeling returned. “She nursed for a long time,” I said. “She nursed to sleep for years.”
“That’s what did it.”
Well, that was the last thing I ever wanted to hear. Particularly in front of my husband.
The dentist paused and looked at me again. He went on to tell me that if I’d asked five years ago if there is a connection between breast milk and cavities, he would have said that he didn’t know. Certainly there is a lot of sugar in a mother’s milk. But in the last five years, he’s had a ton of kids coming with decay that he’s never seen before and the moms tend to be what he called “true nursers”.
Now wait, wait. Stop gathering up your breastfeeding materials and planning your nurse-ins for a moment. I wish that I could convey his tone to you – in no way was he judgmental. He was just sharing his personal experience.
We went on. I told him that I have a one year old and asked if he thought I should I night wean her.
The dentist threw his hands up in the air: “I’m not going to tell a woman what to do.” He went on to say that “they” – and I love that he actually used air quotes when he said “they” – “they” recommend that you wipe the child’s teeth down with a cloth when the child finishes nursing. He quickly then added “but as my wife says, that’s just ridiculous because you’d wake the child up”.
I like this guy’s wife. Apparently we’re on the same wave length. They have five kids – in fact, today while The Princess slept, he came over and talked about baby carriers with me and said he wore his university-aged children back when they were babies. Awesome, right?
In the end, he just recommended that we be extra diligent about The Pixie’s dental hygiene during the day if we choose to keep nursing her at night.
But I still want to know – does breastfeeding at night actually cause cavities?
There is so much research that shows how good breastmilk is for teeth and states that breastfeeding at night does not lead to cavities. I’ve read many excellent articles that encourage women to nurse at night, and in the past week, I’ve reread many of the same articles looking for something that I may have missed. How do I reconcile this information with our experience? I mean, nine cavities at age four! That’s not something I can ignore.
From what I’ve read during this last week, all I can say is this: some kids are more prone to cavities than others, and night nursing could possibly exacerbate their condition. For example, The Princess could have soft or cracked enamel on her teeth, or her grooves could be deeper than normal making it easy for food to get caught, or she could have contracted a bacteria (strep mutans) that encourages decay from adults. I’m sure there are many factors that could have predisposed her to cavities. But I couldn’t really have known. And I don’t expect I’ll wean The Pixie any sooner because of this experience, because I have no idea if The Pixie is predisposed to cavities as well. And I believe that breastmilk is too important to deny my children.
I thought I’d end off with the list the dentist gave me of tooth-happy snacks (mostly because I’m sure I’ll lose the list and this way I’ll have an electronic copy):
DO NOT GIVE
- Fruit roll ups
- Fruit snacks
- Fruit to go
- Granola bars
- Nutrigrain bars
- Oatmeal bars
- Dried Fruits (raisins, trail mix, apricots, etc)
- Sticky candy (toffee, gummy bears, licorice, etc)
- Pop or Gatorade
- Fresh fruits and veggies are the best
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Bits & Bites
- Nachos & dip
- Yogurt, puddings, jello
- Fruit cups, apple sauce
- Plain chocolate bars (Jersey Milk, Aero, etc)