I remembered hearing warnings about not giving a baby a bottle to go to bed with, but I had never thought much about breastfeeding doing the same thing. To my mind, sleeping next to my baby and nursing her briefly back to sleep has allowed me to bypass much of the new mom exhaustion. Was I destroying my baby's teeth for my own convenience? My way of making decisions is to ask myself what it most natural and then research until I can understand why things work the way they do.
I shouldn't have worried, because studies find no link between breastfeeding, even extended breastfeeding, and cavities. Once again, the natural thing works just fine. In fact, breastfeeding is probably protective.
While a baby who falls asleep with a bottle in his mouth will give bacteria an ideal place to reproduce, the breast doesn't continue to drip like a bottle. Also, the nipple goes into the back of the mouth, so there's not much milk sitting on baby's teeth.
Another thing happened recently that made me want to get the message out that breastfeeding doesn't cause cavities. We took our oldest 6 kids for their dental checkups. NONE of them had any cavities and never have. They were shocked at how all the other kids there had cavities, and many had several. There are many factors influencing dental health, and I'm sure our low-sugar diet of natural foods plays a big part, but I breastfed all my kids for at least a year. Of course, breastfed babies can still have tooth decay because of other factors. If you find yourself with a history of or risk factors for oral bacteria, then it's even more reason to breastfeed for as long as you can!