Breastfeeding is one of the first decisions a new mom and baby will make. Many know that breastfeeding and bottle-feeding have different implications for a baby’s overall health, but you may not realize that the approach you choose can affect your child’s dental health, too.
Breastfeeding Helps Build a Better Bite
While breastfeeding is not the only factor that determines a baby’s bite, the muscle activity of infants who are exclusively breastfed makes them less likely to develop a malocclusion. Malocclusion refers to an imperfect positioning of the teeth when the jaws are closed.
In short, the muscle movements of a bottle-fed baby and a breastfed baby are very different and therefore affects how the jaw forms. Breastfed babies are drawing the milk in with the lips and tongue in more of a squeezing motion, while bottle-fed babies are using their tongue to compress the artificial nipple, which can lead to the development of a malocclusion.
According to the Journal of the American Dental Association, babies who were exclusively breastfed for the first six months were less likely to have alignment issues including overbites, crossbites, and open bites than those who were not exclusively breastfed or exclusively bottle fed.
Breastfeeding Is Not Associated With Early Childhood Caries
You may have heard early childhood caries (ECC) — referred to as baby bottle tooth decay, nursing bottle caries, or night bottle mouth. ECC is a very common, transmissible bacterial infection, usually passed from the primary caregiver to the child and can affect children’s teeth from birth to six years old. ECC is apparent when the child has one or more decayed or missing teeth.
On study inferred that breastfeeding is associated with ECC, however, although breast milk contains sugar, after adjusting for potential confounders (factors that influence both dependent variables and independent variables) breastfeeding and the duration of breastfeeding wasn’t associated with the risk of early childhood caries.
Instead, diet, socioeconomics, and microbial levels are all factors that come into play with ECC. To reduce the risk of ECC that could be lumped in with breastfeeding, there are a few things parents can do:
Breastfeeding Reduces the Chance of Fluorosis
Fluorosis means one was overexposed to fluoride. You may notice faint white lines or streaks in the teeth; these are signs of fluorosis. To prevent an excessive intake of fluoride, breastfeeding is the easiest thing you can do. Water and formula contain various levels fluoride and therefore expose babies when it could be avoided. If your baby is formula fed, consult your doctor and dentist about the best formula for your baby. Once your children’s teeth come in, brush them thoroughly twice a day with water, wipe them with a cloth, or use a tiny amount of toothpaste, equivalent to the size of a grain of rice. Ultimately, breastfeeding for more than 6 months may protect children from developing fluorosis in the permanent incisors.
Don’t Wean Breastfeeding When Your Baby’s Teeth Come In
There is no need to wean breastfeeding once the baby’s teeth appear. Breast milk production is based mainly on infant demand. Restricting breastfeeding after the first tooth appears is damaging because it may decrease the mother’s milk supply and ultimately disrupt the child’s feeding patterns.
Continuing the Best Dental Health For Your Baby
Dental professionals are required to reflect on the current evidence regarding breastfeeding to inform patients properly. In the past, some studies have caused confusion due to inconsistent terminology in relation to the frequency, intensity, and timing of breastfeeding, which produce results that are less than conclusive. As with many aspects of health, it is best to be advised on a personal level. Your dental professional will be able to advocate, promote, and support the best dental health for your infant on a case by case basis.
If you have questions about your baby’s dental health, call The Dental Care Center.