Dear Dr. Ellie,
I have a 2 year old daughter and am trying to ensure her teeth are healthy. We have established a good brushing routine (2x a day with fluoride toothpaste -she can swish and spit). We also do not give her many sweets and she eats a healthy diet. My main concern is that she wants milk before nap and bedtime (after brushing). Usually only a few ounces but I have heard this is bad for her teeth.
Your website mentioned Cow’s Milk is not problematic. (We rarely ever give her juice and never before bedtime.) I have heard that milk is a key contiributor to decay. Is that incorrect?
I would like to consider adding xylitol to the milk or just replacing it with xylitol enhanced water. Is the water option better? or would adding xylitol to her milk protect her teeth just as well? How much should I add to the milk (2-3 oz)? Is there a maximum amount a 2 year old should consume? Is it totally safe? What product should I purchase?
Thanks so much!
Thank you so much for this great question about milk. There is so much misunderstanding about milk and teeth!
First there is a big difference between fresh cows milk and formula milk. (Also soy milk is not safe for teeth). Anyone who has prepared formula milk knows how sticky it can be on your fingers. The different sugars in formula milk will not be safe for a child’s teeth during a nap or before bed time.
Cow’s milk is completely different. Cow’s milk is actually protective of teeth and can be classified as safe. Research shows that if you consume cow’s milk in combination with products that would otherwise damage teeth (cookies perhaps ) the milk will be protective.
Most of the confusion began in the 1960s and has been perpetuated ever since! I think it started because lactobacillus is the name of bacteria found in tooth decay and it sounds similar to lactose.
Lactose is the sugar present in milk.
The good news is that lactose sugar does not break down to be acidic enough to damage teeth so it does not damage them and will not contribute to tooth decay. The minerals that are present in milk calcium and phosphates are actually healing for teeth (These are the main ingredients in the new dental paste sold for many dollars by dentists to repair soft teeth. Ha! Ha!)
So the quick answer is yes cow’s milk is safe and I would not worry about giving it to a child in a bottle before nap-time. I used to dilute cows milk with water something you may also want to consider.
On the other hand, you can take this information to a new level as you suggest. If we add just a quarter to half a teaspoon of xylitol to the milk we will make it even better for teeth! Plain water with xylitol would also work well your choice! The xylitol will work to rid your daughter’s mouth of harmful plaque bacteria and offer long term protection.
Thanks again for this question. So many people are afraid to put milk in baby bottles. They select other things like apple juice or fruit juices and are frustrated to find that their kids teeth have dissolved away with large cavities in them. These fruit juices are very acidic whereas the milk is healing and alkaline.
Hope this helps,