700 Children's Blog

Can Milk Cause Cavities?

Sep 04, 2019
Toddler drinking milk from a bottle

During every dental checkup parents have one question, “Does my child have cavities?”  For years the focus has been on regular brushing to prevent dental decay. However, parents are increasingly aware that diet, especially beverages, can be a key factor in developing cavities. 

Drinks to Avoid

Soft drinks have long been known to cause cavities and should be avoided for a number of health reasons. A hidden danger is juice, which also has high amounts of sugar. Grape juice has six teaspoons of sugar in six ounces, which is similar to popular sodas. 

Can Milk Cause Cavities?

Despite increasing consciousness about the dangers of sugary drinks, milk and milk-alternative beverages remain an area of confusion. All types of milk can cause cavities if they are inappropriately consumed. For example, cavities on the upper front teeth can develop if a baby with teeth is put to bed at night with a bottle of milk. However, plain cow’s milk typically does not cause cavities if it is given in a cup with meals. Flavored milks that contain sucrose, such as chocolate or strawberry milks, are more likely to cause cavities. 

What About Nondairy Milks?

Although cow’s milk is one of the most commonly consumed foods worldwide, sales have been decreasing. Sales of alternative milk beverages including soy, almond, cashew, rice, macadamia nut, pecan and flax milks are on the rise. These beverages are made from grinding the source ingredient and mixing with water.

Households may switch to these types of beverages for a variety of reasons including concerns about allergies, weight loss and lactose intolerance. People are also increasingly concerned about hormones, genetic engineering and animal rights and they perceive a plant-based diet that includes milk alternatives as healthier.

There have been no studies that look at the effects of these milk alternatives on cavities in children. These studies would be difficult to conduct because every child has a unique mix of oral bacteria, a complex diet and different brushing habits. However, lab studies can test the effect of these drinks on common bacteria in the mouth and see if they cause cavities in an artificial tooth model.

The few lab studies conducted show that these non-dairy milk beverages are probably as cavity-causing as cow’s milk. Milks that have flavoring such as, chocolate or vanilla, are more likely to cause changes related to cavities than plain or unsweetened versions of the same milk. 

Cavity Free Tips

Cavities are preventable!  When it comes to drinks and cavities, here are some general tips:

  • Only water should be in a bottle or sippy cup in bed once the teeth have come in
  • Juice has little nutritional value and is a source of excess calories and sugar
  • Soft drinks have no place in the diet of children
  • Sugar containing drinks including milk and milk-alternative beverages should be limited to mealtimes

Every child is unique - visit a dentist by age 1 for specific recommendations for your child. For more information about the Dental Clinic at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, click here.

Featured Expert

Janice Townsend
Janice Townsend, DDS, MS
Dentistry

Janice A. Townsend, DDS, MS, is the chief of Pediatric Dentistry at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the chair of the Division of Pediatric Dentistry at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry.

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700 Children’s features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.