Nighttime feedings and their connection to dental decay

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As a parent, you want to do what is best for your child. When your baby wakes in the middle of the night, it is natural to want to feed him. However, frequent nighttime feedings, whether breast milk or formula, can lead to dental decay.

So how can breast milk or formula cause these cavities? In order to get a cavity, three things must be present 1) a tooth, 2) bacteria, and 3) a fermentable carbohydrate. What is a fermentable carbohydrate? All carbohydrates eventually break down into simple sugars like lactose, which is in many of the foods we eat. Fermentable carbohydrates break down quickly in the mouth. We all have teeth and bacteria in our mouth, so the reason we brush and floss is to remove those sugars from our mouth to avoid cavities.

During one 3 a.m. feeding with my 10 month old, I thought about why babies started getting teeth around 6 months old. It dawned on me that maybe we get teeth assuming we would be able to sleep through the night without needing to feed. Many pediatricians say that babies over 6 months do not need to feed throughout the night, although they may wantto!

How do we prevent cavities if your baby is still waking up to feed throughout the night?   Brush! I realize brushing a baby/toddler’s teeth is difficult enough, and telling you to brush sleep deprived in the middle of the night makes me sound a bit crazy, but it is how we prevent decay.  For the 4 months that my son had teeth and was still waking up to feed, I kept his toothbrush where I fed him and brushed across all the teeth for about 10 seconds.  He did not enjoy it, but he did fall back asleep and I slept better knowing that he was not going to get cavities on those teeth.   It is not necessary at that time to use toothpaste or water.   A washcloth or even the t-shirt you are wearing could be used instead of a toothbrush to wipe the milk off the teeth.

If you have questions about your baby’s teeth, schedule a dental visit. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a dental visit around the eruption of the first tooth and no later than age one.

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