Breastfeeding’s Impact on Dental Health

The experience of breastfeeding is very special for many new moms as they consider that time a valuable bonding experience between the mother and newborn child.  Moms who are able to breastfeed also benefit for other reasons: they gain overall health benefits, oral health benefits, and cost-savings benefits.  This blog will help explain the many benefits, for both mom and child, of breastfeeding.

It is important to remember that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that “exclusive breastfeeding, defined as giving an infant only breast milk – no water, no formula, or no other liquids or solid foods – is the norm against which all alternative feeding methods should be compared.”  The 2012 AAP policy statement on breastfeeding and the use of human milk documents the many important reductions in health risks for infants and children, mothers, families and society that are attributable to breast-feeding.  These advantages include developmental, economic, health, nutritional, immunological, psychological, social and environmental benefits.1

Why Breastfeeding is Important for Overall Health

The policy statement of the AAP Section on Breast-feeding states that breast milk is the only source of nutrition a healthy infant requires for about the first six months of life.1  Breastmilk provides specific nutritional components for the child – providing immunological, anti-inflammatory, digestive and immune system benefits during the most vulnerable time in their lives.

There are many reduced health risks for breastfed children including:

  1. Acute Otitis Media (Middle Ear Infections)
  2. Gastroenteritis and Diarrhea
  3. Lower Respiratory Tract Infections – ie. Pneumonia, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  4. Necrotizing Enterocolitis
  5. Leukemia
  6. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
  7. Asthma
  8. Obesity
  9. Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus

Not only does breastfeeding benefit the child, but there are also scientifically proven reduced health risks for mothers who breastfeed including:

  • Postpartum bleeding and hemorrhage – helps mothers recover from childbirth
  • Breast Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer

Oral Health Considerations of Breastfeeding

There are many things to consider when breastfeeding your infant to help your child maintain positive jaw growth patterns, maintain good oral hygiene, and maintain a cavity-free environment from the very start.  Yes, even babies who breastfeed can get cavities!

Jaw Growth Patterns of Breastfed Children

The sucking mechanism used during bottle feeding differs from that used during breastfeeding.2-4  The different sucking mechanisms have the potential to predispose a bottle-fed infant to the development of poor jaw growth patterns.  What’s the significance of your child’s jaw growth pattern?  If your child’s jaw and teeth do not fit together well, your child may need orthodontic treatment in the future or if the jaw growth pattern is significantly deviated from the norm, you may be looking at jaw surgery to correct how teeth fit together (and ultimately your child’s smile!).

Breastfeeding and Early Childhood Cavities

Scientific studies have not found significant evidence that confirms an association between breastfeeding and early childhood cavities.5

How Do I Clean my Infant’s Teeth/Gums?

Prior to the eruption of teeth, it’s easiest to gently wipe your infant’s gums with a wet washcloth or soft towel after breastfeeding (day or night).  Once your child’s teeth begin to erupt, it becomes easier for the parent to either use a finger brush or baby tooth brush with soft bristles.  You can either use water on the brush, or safe-to-swallow (fluoride-free) toothpaste to clean these newly erupted baby teeth.  If your child begins to bite your finger with the finger brush, save your fingers and switch to the hand-held baby toothbrush!

Most importantly, as your child approaches their first birthday, make sure to find a pediatric dentist in your area and schedule your child’s first dental exam.  During this first visit, you can expect a very quick exam, and a lot of talking between you and your dentist regarding things to expect as your child grows, and ways to maintain optimum oral health.   This is also a good time for you to ask your dentist any questions you may have regarding your child’s teeth, gums, and hygiene practices.

For all those breastfeeding mothers out there, great choice!   You can chosen the best source nutrition for your child while providing both you and your child with many health benefits.  As dentists, we hope you also understand the importance of starting early with good oral hygiene habits.  Always remember to baby those baby teeth!

References

  1. Eidelman AI, Schanler RJ; American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding and the use of human milk.  Pediatrics 2012; 129(3):e827-e841.
  2. Viggiano D, Fasano D, Moncaco G, Strohmenger L. Breastfeeding, bottle feeding, and non-nutritive sucking; effects on occlusion in deciduous dentition. Arch Dis Child 2004;89(12):1121-1123.
  3. Inoue N. Sakashita R, and Kamegai T. Reduction of masseter muscle activity in bottle-fed babies.  Early Hum Dev 1995;42(3):185-193.
  4. Gomes CF, Trezza EM, Murade EC, Padovani CR.  Surface electromyography of facial muscles during natural and artificial feeding of infants. J Pediatr (Rio J) 2006;82(2):103-109.
  5. Salone LR, Vann WF, Dee DL.  Breastfeeding, An overview of oral and general health benefits. JADA 2013;144(2):143-151.

(Creative Commons photo credit: BigPinkCookie on Flickr)

Elizabeth Cook Miller, D.D.S., M.S. is a pediatric dentist at Atkins, Maestrello, Miller & Associates Pediatric Dentistry in Richmond, VA. She is a new mother, active runner and her favorite movie is "Finding Nemo".

One Comment

  • Leslie Lytle

    July 11, 2014, 8:00 pm

    Thank you for supporting breastfeeding and providing information about infant oral health! We will repost this on our website.

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