night nurse

I am facing my second toddler with early cavities. I thought I had been being more careful with her by thoroughly brushing her teeth at night unlike my preceding daughter where I did the ‘introductory-cursory’ brush over.

Right after my first daughter turned one, I noticed that her front teeth were discolored. A trip to the pediatric dentist led to general anesthesia where the dentist removed four teeth and filled four more. It was a costly, unpleasant experience.

On my next daughter, who just turned two years old, I had been vigilantly watching her front teeth for signs of discoloration. Her front teeth still look pretty good, but you can imagine how my stomach sank when I saw brown on her back molars.

Brown that did not brush off. Brown that on a closer look was four molars with cavities.

Over the past three years, I have been keeping an ear open to this subject and knew about more about demineralization – not enough, obviously, but more.

Armed with this knowledge, we set off to talk with the pediatric dentists.

The good news is that the dentist who did my other daughter’s teeth believes that hopefully he can just do these four back teeth under sedation instead of the general anesthesia.

But I wanted a second opinion, and so yesterday, we went to a second pediatric dentist.

Before he even said hello to my daughter and made her comfortable (or me for that matter), he asked me why I thought I was there.

When I got to ‘night-nursing’ on my list, he stopped me.

And then preceded to go on a Rampage.

A rampage that lasted the better part of an hour. A rampage that included telling me I should look at my emotional reasons for breastfeeding, compared breastfeeding to smoking and told me that modern mothers coddle their children too much.


It lasted the better part of an hour because for every statement he had, I had a question or a reply.

But I am here to tell you that if I were not the mother of four children at the place I am in my life, I would have left that office feeling completely crushed and ashamed as if I had committed child abuse.

Look, Mr. Dentist, I understand that the majority of children with cavities that you see are either breastfed at night, put to bed with a bottle or have completely horrible habits, but here’s the thing:

I also believe that the jelly donut that I give my children during our shopping trips in the large scheme of things is far more culpable than night time breastfeeding.

And UNLIKE THE JELLY DONUT, breastfeeding has many proven physical and psychological benefits that don‘t stop when a baby gets their first teeth. Well, okay, the jelly donut has the psychological benefit of getting me through a shopping trip with my sanity intact, but for my children’s health, it certainly has none.

And while I am on it, what the heck is wrong with our culture that I feel more guilty about extended breastfeeding my children than I do the Jelly Donut???

Would the dentist have spent an hour lecturing me on the Diet I feed my children???

I think that Mr. Dentist believes, like my ex-mother-in-law, that at the heart of my breastfeeding my two year old is this sick, unhealthy psychological need to feel ‘needed’ and that I have become ’too attached’ to my children.

I am wondering when the last time he spent 24 hours/7 days a week with his small children.

I freely admit that there is a positive, bonding, nurturing and emotional aspect to breastfeeding. It increases my patience during a job that can get brutally repetitive and drive one to the edge of sanity with its dirty diapers, continual messes and constant calls of ‘mom, mom, mom’.

Every time my mother comes for her week long visit from Texas to help me with my four children, on the last day, with a face completely worn from exhaustion, she looks at me and says, “I don’t know how you do it.’

Yes, there’s day care. And believe me, sometimes, I have thought fondly of that option even to the point that it might make me a better Mama, given a break during the day, and with my children in the hands of ‘professionals’ who are not so emotionally invested.

But it is not the way that we have chosen to go. And in between all of those challenges above, are the moments of Pure Bliss that I would not Trade for the World and multiple instances to instill the values that my husband and I uphold and the lessons we hope to teach our children.

Look I am not making a moral judgment on how you are taking care of your small children, and in return, you should not do so on me. Parenting has very little ‘absolutes’ other than those completely evil and truly mentally sick parents who tie their children in the basement and occasionally feed them, the rest of us, I believe, do the best we can on a daily basis, with the situations that we have been given, and with the fact that the Divine has given us this awesome and sometimes fear-inspiring job of raising these little people.

And for those of us who choose the path I have, make no mistake, breastfeeding is a powerful tool in the arsenal of Mama Hood. I freely admit that.

I also believe the more worthy adversary for the extent of the childhood caries problem that we have today is our Modern Diet. 

I do my best to feed my four children healthy meals from real ingredients and limit their sugar consumption. The juice they have is ‘real’ juice and limited as well.

But I am far from perfect on this. I freely admit this not my ‘thing‘, and feeding my family of six is my daily struggle. On the whole, my diet is far better than it used to be, but I confess that a lot of times I bribe my two active, lively daughters through the grocery trip with a sweet such as a donut.

Every day, they have a sweet of some type. You won’t open up my cupboard and see Cheetos, Goldfish, Oreos, etc., but my children are quite familiar with all of the former due to school birthday’s, other parties, my own occasional slip up, well-meaning grandparents, etc.

When I asked the dentist about all of my Mama friends who extended breastfed and their children do not have early childhood caries, he gave me a blank stare.

So I have two purposes in this post, the first is to  ask all of you Mamas who Night Nursed and whose Children DID NOT have horrible teeth during their toddler years to comment below.

Make the rest of us Mamas who are dealing with this feel a little bit better and show Mr. Dentist, that no, it is not a given that just because you night nursed your child past when they got their teeth, that you will be facing brown teeth.

The second part of this post is to address where Mr. Dentist is correct.

Breast milk in itself is not cariogenic. However, breast milk in the presence of cariogenic carbohydrates already on the teeth has been shown to increase tooth decay which of course means if you night nurse and your children spend an extended amount of time with breast milk on their teeth, you have to be extra careful.

I wish I could snap my fingers and provide the perfect diet for all of my children, but as you all know, that is not easy. Hats off and a deep, deep bow to all those mamas who succeed at this far more than I do. I am doing my best and making strides as I can to improve our diet.

In the meantime, below is a list of things that are relatively easy to implement in your daily routine, and if you night nurse your children, I would urge you to:

  • Thoroughly brush their teeth at least twice a day morning and night.
  • Minimize grains, processed foods and sugars. When they do eat the former, if you can’t brush their teeth, have them at least drink water. I am now going everywhere armed with a water bottle, and my two year old gets quite a kick out of ’swish, swish, spit’ fun.
  • See a pediatric dentist when they are one year old and talk about sealants on their molars when they first come in on a risk versus benefit basis.
  • Expose them to some xylitol. Xylitol has been proven to reduce cavities. There is some concern about it (and its overuse), but I am using a toothpaste with xylitol downstairs during the day, and one with fluoride upstairs at night.
  • Have them take Fermented Cod Liver Oil. The benefits of this superfood are not only dental but also extend to your heart, brain and immunity system. See this article for more information The only company that produces fermented cod liver oil is and it is quite spendy, but much less so than the dental bill.
  • Do your best to make sure your child has adequate minerals (calcium, magnesium and phosphorus) and adequate fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E and K) (especially D) in their diet. At the very least, make sure they are taking a daily multi-vitamin. I picked up one sweetened with xylitol.
  • Make sure your child(ren) does not have a tongue (or lip) tie. A tongue-tie (a shortness in the band of tissue connecting the bottom of the tongue to the bottom of the mouth.) not only makes breastfeeding much more difficult but can also lead to food being stuck within the lip and lead to more cavities.

Did I do all of the above with my children? No. And that is why I have written this post, because if I did all of the above and was still faced with the early childhood caries, than yes, I might look solely at nighttime nursing.

But in the meantime, I refuse to add nighttime nursing to the (and I admit lengthy) list of Parenting Mistakes that I have made.



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