Q. My 18-month old daughter has terrible problems with her teeth. She is missing enamel on two teeth and has a number of cavities and brown patches on her teeth, in particular her front top teeth. I took her to the doctor recently and he said it is because I breastfeed her during the night. She eats very healthy snacks, and I don’t give her sweets, juice, or other junk foods. What can I do about her teeth? I am not convinced that breastfeeding is causing these problems.
A. You are quite correct, in that breastmilk in itself does not cause cavities. The problem is that once cavities or damage to the enamel appears, the breastmilk may exacerbate the existing issues.
Early childhood caries affects around a tenth of all infants, and the cause is the bacteria Streptococcus mutans. Children diagnosed with early childhood caries tend to have Streptococcus mutans levels that are up to 100 times higher than average. This bacteria can be spread easily by saliva contact, through sharing food, utensils, and cups, and even a kiss.
The bacteria multiplies rapidly, feeding on sugar (even healthy sugars such as those present in breastmilk), and excreting acid — which is what damages the integrity of the enamel.
It does appear that some children are more susceptible to early childhood caries than others, although the exact reasons why are still largely unknown.
Risk factors are thought to include oral hygiene of close family members and caregivers, the mother’s diet,
traumatic or premature birth, maternal diabetes, pregnancy pre-eclampsia, or other illnesses during pregnancy (viral or bacterial infection, allergies, gastroenteritis, kidney problems).
Once the cavities are established, you will need to work together with your dentist to repair (or in some cases, remove) the affected teeth.
There are products available that many people have used to help remineralise teeth, including GC Tooth Mousse which contains bioavailable calcium and phosphorus to help restore minerals, neutralise acid, and protect against further damage.
My next recommendation is a bit more difficult with such a young child due to the taste, but a supplement such as Green Pastures’ Blue Ice Royal Blend (a combination of fermented cod liver oil and concentrated butter oil) has the optimal ratio of vitamins A, D, E, and K, along with the full spectrum of omega-3 and 6 essential fatty acids.
Spearmint tea (unsweetened) may help to kill off the Streptococcus mutans bacteria in the mouth, so if your daughter is happy to have a cup of warm spearmint tea with her meals, this may restore balance to her oral flora. Chewing xylitol gum is also an effective method of lowering your own levels of this bacteria, and reduce the chance of passing it to your daughter.
Full-term breastfeeding carries many benefits in terms of nutrition, particularly when it comes to building strong and healthy bones and teeth, not to mention for immune health.
Q. My father has recently been diagnosed with glaucoma, and his ophthalmologist has informed him that his children will be more susceptible to developing it as there is a genetic link. What can I do to prevent this?
A. The first thing that I would be doing in your situation is to organise a visit to an ophthalmologist for a thorough eye examination, including testing your intraocular eye pressure. Discuss with your specialist as to how regularly you should be getting check ups, and make sure that you follow through with this.
In the meantime, add plenty of eye-friendly foods to your diet. Include plenty of berries, leafy green vegetables (high in lutein), eggs and brightly coloured vegetables and fruits (for their zeaxanthin content), along with healthy fats since lutein needs fat to be effectively absorbed.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids which have been shown to protect the retina from harmful blue light and significantly reduce the rate of macular degeneration.
Richly coloured berries contain active constituents which work to improve the integrity of capillaries which carry nutrients to the muscles and nerves of the eye, improving general eye health, vision, and focus.
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