My family is a rather large, extended network of the most lovable people ever. We’ve been blessed with several additions to the family lately, 4 boys and 3 girls. As the dental professional of the family, I’m asked about what is good and not so good for the children’s teeth. As I was pouring milk on my cereal this morning, I wondered why I was never asked if milk is essential for teeth. I did some research on the topic and wanted to share my opinion.
As a disclaimer, my goal is to provide information that helps your child have the best oral health possible and to allow them to have the best of smiles. At Eagle Valley Family Dentistry, in Bellefonte PA your child’s oral health is the top concern. Helping parents by providing the information is one way that they accomplish this goal.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 45.8% of all US children aged 2-19 years old suffer from some type of tooth decay. That is a staggering statistic, almost HALF of the children in our country do not have optimum oral health! Does milk help or hurt our fight against tooth decay? Let’s try to break down this question into manageable parts.
Is Milk Helpful?
If we talk about breastmilk, it is a universal understanding, that even the World Health Organization recognizes, that babies only nourishment be breastmilk for at least 6 months and then are gradually introduced to other foods while continuing to utilize breastmilk until the baby reaches their second year. Breastmilk contains all the nutrients a baby requires for healthy growth throughout their first year, and as such, it’s crucial they receive it when required. I know that some will argue the length of time a child should be receiving breastmilk, each person gets to decide that for their child, nobody should be arguing against the merits of breastmilk for optimum health.
If we talk about animal milk, such as dairy products, then the answer to the milk question becomes a bit more difficult.
Milk that comes from an animal source, other than human, usually contains proteins, calcium, potassium, and vitamin B12, making it a valuable and cost-effective nutritious complement to your child’s diet. Moreover, commercial cow’s milk usually has vitamin D and A as additives which provides additional health benefits for a growing child. With all of that said, is it necessary for your baby’s healthy growth? My opinion is a generalized hesitant No. All of the nutrients provided by animal milk are available from other sources. Getting the correct daily intake of the needed vitamins and minerals is what is important.
Is Milk Harmful?
While animal milk is not necessarily the single most effective way to ward off tooth decay in children, it’s not a harmful product either. Some will argue that since animal milk contains a natural sugar called lactose, it can decay teeth the same way as processed sugar. Fortunately, that’s not the case. A protein called casein has derivative components that avert tooth demineralization, promote remineralization, and helps prevent tooth decay. The details of this interaction are for chemists to chat about over coffee, not for here, but these components can help prevent harmful bacteria from attaching to the surfaces of teeth.
Another aspect that we touched upon already that needs further discussion is animal milk allergies and lactose intolerance. According to the NIH, about 36% of all citizens in the US have some type of lactose intolerance. To ascertain whether your child is allergic or lactose intolerant, please discuss the necessary steps to determine that with your primary care provider. Certain animals (goats) produce milk that has proteins that are easier to digest and won’t cause the same symptoms as those in cow’s milk. Lactose-free milk is a viable option for those who are affected by lactose intolerance. There are several plant-based milk substitutes on the market as well, I’ve seen milk substitutes made with soy, oats, rice, coconut, cashews, and almonds.
If you have a child that you and your PCP have concluded has a milk allergy or is lactose intolerant, you must remember the following recommendations when selecting milk alternatives for their diet:
Kids should NOT be drinking milk substitutes before 1 year of age.
Sweetened and flavored beverages should be avoided.
The nutrient content of milk substitutes must be checked, as they will vary from one manufacturer to another.
It is up to the parent to ensure their child is getting the recommended daily dose of all the vital nutrients, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.
The above opinions are of Dr. Wade Newman, founder of Eagle Valley Family Dentistry, who is not currently practicing dentistry.