Truth or Myth: Does breast milk cause cavities?

If you have ever nursed a child past the age of 12 months, you have probably heard the following from a dentist or pediatrician:  “Breast milk causes tooth decay, so don’t let your child nurse at night or go to bed with a bottle.”

It’s better termed “Baby Bottle Tooth Decay” or “Nursing Caries,” although it is not limited to baby bottles, as it extends to breastfeeding babies and toddlers.  The reasoning behind it: In short, during the day, the cleansing action of saliva clears any food residue from teeth and buffers the acid produced by decay-causing bacteria (strep mutans).  At night, however, the saliva supply is low.  Milk sugars cling on to teeth and mix with the cariogenic bacteria already present in the mouth, which, in turn, produce acid.  Without the constant renewal of saliva to “intervene,” the acid attacks the teeth and eventually causes decay.

I apologize in advance to those good-hearted and well-intended dentists and pediatricians, and I realize I may even get a few negative responses to this one (but that’s what you get when you say something controversial and dispute mainstream ideology, right?), but I’m here to destroy the myth that nursing causes tooth decay in children.

We have been to our fair share of dentists in the course of our firstborn’s first 2 years of life to get second, third and even fourth opinions and ensure that we were not doing any unnecessary treatments.  For those inquiring minds, he had a horrendous bout with acid reflux as an infant that left part of the edge of his enamel on two of his incisors worn to the dentin.  Although there were no cavities yet, we wanted to take preventative measures to guarantee that our son did not have further issues down the road.

Time and again, we were lectured about nursing him, especially at night.  At the time, I kept thinking, why would God make this perfect food that also causes tooth decay in babies?  It couldn’t be right, and I wanted to get to the bottom of it.  So we did some of our own research (no surprise there, as I always research everything), and made a yet another appointment with a very knowledgeable dentist in Southern California who was on the cutting edge of the newest information and research.  And guess what we found out?

Breast milk does not cause tooth decay.

Although breast milk is sweet and contains lactose, it also has a protectant, lactoferrin, that attacks decay-causing bacteria.  The reason why breast milk is so often mistakenly linked to tooth decay is because it is very sticky.  It sticks onto those baby teeth like a gooey coating, which in and of itself is not bad for teeth.  It’s when you add table foods to the mix that it becomes, well, a rather sticky situation.  Breast milk makes other foods stick to the child’s teeth and that, my friends, is the culprit of tooth decay.

There were even a couple of articles in dentistry publications stating that breast milk doesn’t cause tooth decay.  And there are no studies that can link breast milk to early childhood caries. (In fact, there is a Finnish study that concludes the exact opposite.) So why do our dentists and doctors still warn us against nursing our children past a year?

So what can you do to prevent caries (cavities)? Basically what that dentist told us was to brush the breast milk from his teeth before giving him table food.  And then make sure that before we nursed him again, we rid his teeth of all table food.  Yes, it seems like a tedious job and much harder to do than to wean the child.  But we didn’t stop nursing him.

I’ll admit that we didn’t brush after every meal or after every nursing session, but we did do a very good job of brushing twice a day and using a re-calcification paste on our son’s enamel-worn teeth.  He drank water directly from an adult cup to rinse his mouth from foods after he ate, and drank juice only from a straw to “bypass” his teeth.  Though this might not work for everyone, especially for those children that are genetically predisposed to having cavities, somehow our son managed to stay cavity-free.

Due to all of this research, I am more apt to believe that SoCal dentist and our own findings rather than all the other dentists and pediatricians who are only repeating the (rather erroneous) information that they were given to quote to the masses. (I guess it’s easier to just blame the breast milk than try to explain to thousands of nursing moms that they need to brush after every nursing session?) Just the other day I had to bite my tongue, as yet another dentist told me to stop nursing my 13 month old child.  I just smiled and nodded, knowing that she was intending to give good advice but was probably misleading so many moms on this matter.

Breast milk really is the perfect food after all.  So, go ahead and nurse those tots for as long as you want to.  But unless you want to hear the lecture, you might want to keep that a secret.  Then make sure to brush, brush, brush those tiny pearly whites before they come into contact with table food, use good dental hygiene and visit the dentist regularly.  But don’t take my word for it.  Do your own research.

Photo Credit 1, 2


  1. 2

    What SoCal dentist did you go to? I live in SoCal and am in desperate need of fnding a good dentist for my son! I stopped breastfeeding him because he has ECC. The first dentist I went to said there was nothing that could be done until he turned two! His current dentist says his baby teeth were formed with weak enamel. I want to make sure I go to someone that will give us the best options and the best care. . .

  2. 3

    Thank you for dispelling the myth. I think if a breastfeeding mom wants to continue nursing she can. It is just like anything else you put in your mouth you should (not always practical) brush afterwards. I just wish dentists would realize that nursing can be done longer and does not cause damage to the teeth as long as children are taught to take care of their teeth from a young age.

  3. 4

    Sadly, most dentists and doctors don’t do much outside research from what they’ve been taught. But the few that do are priceless and I love them for it!

  4. 5

    My daughter is 13 months now & still nursing at night. Thank you for the information!

  5. 6

    You’re quite welcome!

  6. 7
    Tian Kinasih says:

    Glad to hear that, because a lot of poeple around keep telling me that breastfeed milk is sweet and can cause a cavities.

  7. 8
    Rebekah Kuczenski says:

    Thank you for the information, i always thought breast milk could cause tooth decay!

  8. 9

    I have 4 children. Each nursed until 2, my last one is still nursing at over 2. I wasn’t the greatest mother for brushing teeth(it’s still a fight with them), and I let my children have sweets quite a bit. My teeth are also horrendous! So imagine my surprise that none of my children have cavities. It defies logic! I was completely shocked, and still am that they are cavity free and my oldest is a teenager! I made sure to get their teeth sealed once they were able to, and take them to the dentist at least once a year. It has got to be the breast milk that helped them.

  9. 10
    Speaking my mind says:

    Thank you very much for this detailed information. My daughters pediatrician surprised me yesterday by saying my daughter needs to stop breeastfeeding at night because it can cause cavities. See, she’s 18 months almost 19 months and loves to breeastfeeding. I heard bottle feeding caused cavities but never heard breeastfeeding to be the cause so I ha to do some research. I appreciate the information & will continue to gather information before our next visit so I can share it with him,

  10. 11

    we just got home from the dentist and she told me that breast milk causes cavities, I couldn’t believe it

  11. 12

    I think this whole article is a crock pile. You can’t literally come up with your own hypothesis without physically testing the limitations of what you find. For example: my friends wife breast feeds their daughter who will be 3 soon (yes as I must say this is beyond disgusting and I have a right to say that as I am a mother of three) she wakes up every morning brushes her teeth and even uses the blue mouthwash to make sure she did a good job. She also brushes after lunch and after dinner. This child is definitely a teeth clean freak. The problem… mother gives her an all night dinner buffet whenever she wants, so she lays there and drinks breast milk everytime she wakes up (even more disgusting). Now explain to me how this child has tooth decay when she brushes morning, noon, & night until her teeth are clean…. ding ding ding overnight breast milk. What you fail to realize it is not the stickiness of breast milk, and not the lactose, but it is from all of the “other” sugars that momma puts into her body and then is fed through breast milk. Please use your common sense before you try to debunk something. Also, make sure you use your proper testing skills and base it off different women who breast feed and not just one. That person you could have gotten your “so called” research from may have only taken the breast milk from a goat or cow or another mammal. If from human maybe that mother ate extremely healthy.

  12. 13

    Amber, thank you for your comments. However, what *you* fail to see is the epidemic we have in the US with tooth decay due to fluoridation of our water and fluoride in our toothpaste and everywhere we turn. The glycerin in our toothpastes also further keep teeth from remineralizing like they are supposed to. Furthermore, your friend’s child just might have something called a lip tie. Lip ties, as we discovered in my own kids, decay teeth no matter how hard you try to keep them clean or eat the right diets. Why don’t you try looking up lip ties and perhaps you can help your friend’s child? Here is a start:

  13. 14

    Furthermore, I suspect that the child’s nutrition and genetics could have something to do with it. And by the way, Amber, when you try to argue against someone’s point, try thinking that there might be a possibility that the person who wrote the article might have discussed this with very knowledgeable and researching dentists (ones that actually have their own minds to research and not just follow the old protocols from their dentistry schools). And to answer that question, yes, I have spoken to not one but several more alternatively thinking dentists and doctors who are highly respectable and knowledgeable in the subject matter. Bottom line? It still stands that breastmilk alone does not cause tooth decay. I suggest doing your research, and thank you for your time.

  14. 15

    Amber sounds like a tool. Mother of three and she refers to breastfeeding as “disgusting”. I’d say she is pretty disgusting based on her nasty comments.

  15. 16

    I have never heard that BF causes tooth decay. I can’t believe that so many people believe it does. I’ve done tons and TONS of research on breastfeeding and the benefits and everything else that goes along with it. It’s the best thing for you and your little one.

  16. 17

    My Daughter Had 4 Cavities And She’s 3. She Eats Healthy And Was Nursed Until Two. She Had To Have Iron Drops At One Which I Believe Is The Cause. The Dentist Said It Was My Nursing. My Pediatrician Got Mad And Sent The Dentist An Article That Nursing Does Not Cause Cavities. I Was Very Sick When I Was Pregnant And That Can Cause Problems In The Fetus Enamel As Well. There Are So Many Factors And They All Just Blame It I’m Nursing.

  17. 18

    I am glad for this article as well. Nearly everything that I have read lately has agreed with this article. I am happily nursing and don’t plan to stop any time soon. As for Amber- it doesn’t matter how many children you have…. If you think breast feeding is “disgusting” you are obviously ignorant and do not have a clue what you are talking about. Do a little research before spouting off all that nonsense.

  18. 19
    Bianca Munoz says:

    I need to start cleaning teeth more!
    Mom fail :(


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Hanan, A Nation of Moms. A Nation of Moms said: Truth or Myth: Does breast milk cause caries? via A Nation of Moms – If you have ever nursed a child past … […]

  2. […] La Sierra University and UCSB then graduated from Loma Linda University School Of Dentistry in 1981.Author: Dr. John M. Luckey There are so many new things to learn as a first time parent, the learnin…ou might even be tempted to allow your baby to fall asleep every night with a bottle of milk, […]

Speak Your Mind