Does Breastfeeding Help Support the Dental Health of Your Baby?
Written by Consumer Guide to Dentistry Last modified on January 8, 2019
Expectant mothers have unique considerations when it comes to dental care that we’ve discussed previously in our “Oral Health and Pregnancy” article. The associated hormonal changes can increase the risk for gingivitis, gum disease and other dental problems, which, if left untreated, can cause harm to the developing child. During pregnancy, accommodations must be made for dental visits and any dental work that is needed.
Most of our previously published information is aimed at supporting the oral health and wellbeing of mother and child during the nine-month gestational period. But there are some unique considerations that actually develop after birth with regard to breastfeeding that we want to discuss with you today.
To Breastfeed or Not to Breastfeed
Not every new mother elects to breastfeed her child. It’s a personal decision that can be impacted by any number of concerns, ranging from the limits that breastfeeding puts on diet, nutrition and lifestyle, to issues related to discomfort and potential infection. But there are some proven health benefits associated with breastfeeding that can’t be ignored. Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other organizations, shows that breastfed babies have lower risks for childhood obesity and leukemia, asthma, type 2 diabetes, eczema, ear infections and more.
Benefits of particular interest to us at Consumer Guide to Dentistry relate to your child’s dental health, and how breastfeeding may actually help to support it.
Breastfeeding and Dental Health
Given the potential cost of dental braces and other orthodontic treatments, who wouldn’t want to give their child every possible advantage when it comes to healthy bite alignment? Multiple studies — the most recent of which was published in the August 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association — have linked breastfed children with improved bite alignment. According to these studies, children who are breastfed for the first six months are less susceptible to alignment issues like open bites, crossbites and overbites.
This isn’t to say that by breastfeeding your kids, they will have immaculately aligned teeth and never require orthodontic correction. There are many other factors that impact alignment, including genetics and behavior (thumb sucking, pacifier use, etc.).
Another dental benefit associated with breastfeeding is a reduced risk of baby bottle tooth decay (also known as nursing bottle syndrome), an issue exclusive to the use of baby bottles. If you’re constantly giving your baby a bottle of milk, formula, fruit juice or any liquid that contains sugar, it increases the risk for pediatric tooth decay. Parents who put a child to bed with a bottle to help them sleep through the night may actually put that child at the highest risk for tooth decay. Just because a child’s baby teeth haven’t yet erupted doesn’t mean that there is no risk for decay.
Of course, there are natural sugars in breastmilk as well. Therefore, whether or not your child is breastfed or bottle fed, it’s important to begin caring for their gums essentially from day one. Using a clean piece of gauze or washcloth, wipe your baby’s gums daily to help clear away any lingering bacteria.
Breastfeeding offers some clear benefits when it comes to the dental health of children. But at the end of the day, it’s up to parents in consult with their pediatricians to determine the best fit for them.
Don’t Forget About Yourself Mom
We offer some dental care tips for expectant mothers, but would like to close out this post with a reminder for mothers in the days, weeks and months after birth: don’t forget to take care of yourself as well.
It’s not uncommon for mothers to become consumed with the care of a new child to the detriment of their own wellbeing. Lapses in daily routines such as flossing, rinsing with mouthwash, or brushing teeth at night aren’t altogether uncommon, leaving mothers at greater risk for gum disease and tooth decay. These issues also increase the risk of passing bacteria to your child if you share a spoon, or even a kiss.
Speak with your dentist about best practices during and after pregnancy to help ensure the optimal dental health for you and your child.
Making the Decision to Breastfeed – Womenshealth.gov – Dec. 6, 2018
Breastfeeding: 6 Things Nursing Moms Should Know About Dental Health – MouthHealthy.org