|Sleep Apnea from an Anatomical and Developmental Perspective|
Brian Palmer, D.D.S.
Breastfeeding and Infant Caries: No Connection
Based on the belief that breastfeeding increases the risk for infant caries, some researchers and healthcare professionals have recommended that infants be weaned with the eruption of the first deciduous tooth. New research, however, indicates that breastfeeding does not increase the risk for infant caries.
a 1999 review article on breastfeeding and caries, Erickson concluded that
"human breastmilk is not cariogenic."
Dr. Erickson’s research has demonstrated that some infant formulas
dissolve tooth enamel, significantly reduce pH, and cause dental caries and pulp
authors have also questioned the purported link between breastfeeding and infant
caries. A 1998 review by Sinton
notes deficiencies in the empiric evidence, citing “the contradictory nature
of previous research findings and weak methodology used.”4 Furthermore, the director of the National Institute of Dental
and Craniofacial Research, has stated that “population-based studies do not
support a definitive link between prolonged breastfeeding and caries.”3
found that breastfeeding a child for more than 40 days may inhibit the
development of nursing caries in children.
In support of this finding are several animal and in vitro studies.5
Dreizen found that rats fed rat milk
as the sole source of nutrition did not develop caries and those given
sucrose-milk solutions developed fewer caries than animals fed sucrose-water
solutions.6 In vitro
milk has been shown to remineralize artificially demineralized enamel.7
Several components of human milk may also protect against the development
of caries. IgA and IgG have the
potential to retard streptococcal growth; streptococcus
mutans is highly susceptible to the bactericidal action of lactoferrin, a
major component of human milk.9,10
Rugg-Gunn reported that cariogenic bacteria may not be able to utilize
lactose, the sugar found in breastmilk, as readily as sucrose.8 Confirming
the findings of other researchers, this author has evaluated approximately 600
skulls to find little evidence of problems with dental decay among our
prehistoric breastfed ancestors.11,12,13,14,15
other than infant feeding may also impact the development of caries.
Torney found that maternal bereavement or stress, reduced intake of dairy
products, illness, and antibiotic use during pregnancy were associated with
increases in infant caries.11
is now believed that decay causing bacteria can be transmitted to the infant by
way of parents, care-givers, friends, and others.
Berkowitz concluded that caries is an infectious and transmissible
disease primarily caused by streptococcus mutans.16
Accumulation of this organism to pathogenic levels results from frequent
and prolonged exposure to cariogenic substrates.
Suhonen found that the later the primary teeth were colonized with
streptococcus mutans, the less likely caries were to develop.17
assume that because breastmilk contains lactose, it can be as cariogenic as any
sugar solution in a bottle. However,
lactose is protected by the antibacterial and enzymatic qualities of breastmilk.18
Furthermore, lactase enzyme splits lactose into glucose and galactose in
the intestines, rather than in the mouth. There
are 4,640 species of mammals, all of whom breastfeed their young.
Lactose is present in most of the breastmilk of these species. Humans are but one species of mammals, but are the only
species with any significant decay in deciduous teeth.
Mammals, starting with the Australopithecines have been on the earth for
2 to 4 million years.19 Modern
Homo sapiens have been around for 30,000 to 35,000 years.
Dental decay, however, did not become a significant problem until about
8,000 to 10,000 years ago. Anthropologists
believe the increase in decay was primarily due to the advent of the cultivated
crops. Some anthropologists believe
it would be evolutionary suicide for breastmilk to cause decay and that
evolution would have selected against it.
evidence has identified several factors that may increase the infant’s risk
for caries. To determine why and
infant has decay, an in-depth evaluation of the following factors is
intake is the primary cause of decay. This
includes sugar in otherwise nutritious foods such as juices, cereals, breads,
raisins, etc. It also applies to
sweetened medications. It is very
important to understand that it is not the amount of sugar or carbohydrates to
which the teeth are exposed, but rather the frequency
of exposure that is the key to the development of decay.
2. The timing of introduction and the number of decay causing bacteria that are introduced into the infant’s mouth.
3. Xerostomia or dryness of the mouth (lack of saliva flow).
Illnesses of, or stress to, the mother or fetus during development.
Poor dietary habits of the family.
Poor oral and overall hygiene of the family.
7. Family genetics (minor contributor).
Empiric evidence does not support a causal association between
breastfeeding and infant caries. Breastmilk
alone, including the lactose in it, does not cause tooth decay.
Infants who are exclusively breastfed, however, are not immune to decay
as a number of other factors may influence the infant’s risk of caries.
Breastfeeding is critical to the total health and well being of all
mammals – both young and old alike throughout the life span.
Breastmilk has many proven benefits.
Recent studies have documented additional oral and dental benefits
including reduced risk of malocclusion, collapsed facial forms, snoring and
obstructive sleep apnea.12,20 It
is clear that medical and dental communities should begin to educate health
insurers and the public about the importance and efficacy of breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding truly is the best and cheapest form of health
Erickson PR, Mazhare E. Investigation of the role of human breast milk in
caries development. Pediatr
Erickson PR, McClintock KL, Green N, et al. J. Estimation of the
caries-related risk associated with infant formulas. Pediatr Dent
Slavkin H. Streptococcus Mutans, Early Childhood Caries and New
Sinton J, Valaitis R, Passarelli C, et al. A systematic overview of the
relationship between infant feeding caries and breast-feeding. Ont Dent 1998;75:23-27.
Oulis C, Berdouses ED, Vadiakas G, et al. Feeding practices of Greek
children with and without nursing caries.
Pediatric Dentistry 1999;21:409-16.
Dreizen S, Dreizen J, Stone R. The effect on cows milk on dental caries
in the rat. J
Dent Res 1961;40:1025-28.
McDougall W. Effect of milk on enamel demineralization and
remineralization in vitro. Caries
Rugg-Gunn A., Roberts GJ, Wright WG. Effect of human milk on plaque pH in
situ and enamel dissolution in vitro compared with bovine milk, lactose, and
sucrose. Caries Res 1985;19:327-34.
Arnold R, Cole M., McGhee J. A Bactericidal Effect for Human Lactoferrin.
Mandel ID. Caries Prevention: Current Strategies, New Directions. JADA 1996;127:1477-88.
11. Torney PH, Prolonged, On-Demand Breastfeeding and Dental Decay: An Investigation. Unpublished MDS Thesis.1992 Dublin.
Palmer B. The Influence of Breastfeeding on the Development of the Oral
Cavity: A Commentary. J Hum Lact
Price WA. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. 6th ed. 1998, New Canaan,
Connecticut: Keats Publishing, Inc.
Black GV. Operative Dentistry: The Pathology of the Hard Tissues of the
Teeth. Second ed. Vol. 1. 1914: Medico-Dental Publishing Co., London: Claudius
Ash, Sons & Co., Ltd.
Molnar S, Molnar I. Dental Arch Shape and Tooth Wear Variability. Amer J of Phy Anthr 1990;82:385-95.
Berkowitz R. Etiology of Nursing Caries: a Microbiologic Perspective.
Public Health Dent 1996;56:51-4.
Suhonen J, Sener B, Bucher S, et al. Release of Preventive Agents from
Pacifiers in Vitro. Schweiz Monatsschr Zahnmed 1994;104:946-51.
Effert FM, Gurner BW. Reaction of human and early milk antibodies with
oral streptococci. Infect Immun
Crelin E, The Human Vocal Tract: Anatomy, Function, Development and
Evolution. 1987, Vantage Press: New York.
Palmer B. Breastfeeding: Reducing the risk for obstructive sleep apnea.
Breastfeeding Abstracts 1999;18:19-20.
ABM NEWS and VIEWS, The
Newsletter of The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, 2000, Vol.6, No. 4 (Dec),
p27 & 31.