Does breastfeeding affect a child’s oral health?

While the long-term effects of breastfeeding for both mom and baby have shown to be numerous for those who choose and are able to breastfeed, until recently few studies have looked at the effects of breastfeeding on the oral health of babies. Two recent reports, however looked the ramifications on alignment and cavities, with two very different conclusions.

Breastfeeding may reduce risk of future teeth misalignment

In 2015, a study published in the journal Pediatrics found that the more babies breast-feed, the less likely they will develop misalignment in their teeth later on, noting that pacifiers can however, negate some of that potential benefit.

The researchers from University of Adelaide in Australia, tracked just over 1,300 children for five years, including how much they breast-fed at 3 months, 1 year and 2 years old, and looked at how often the children used a pacifier, if at all, at 3 months, 1 year, 2 and 4. About 40 percent of the children used a pacifier daily for four years.

When the children were 5, the researchers determined which of them had various types of misaligned teeth or jaw conditions, including open bite, crossbite, overbite or a moderate to severe misalignment.

Studies have looked at the effects of breastfeeding on the oral health of babies. Two recent reports provide insights into oral health and breast feeding.

The study showed that the risk of overbite was one-third lower for those who exclusively breast-fed for three to six months compared to those who didn’t, and 41percent less likely to have moderate to severe misalignment of the teeth. If they breast-fed at least six months or more, the risk of overbite dropped by 44 percent and the threat misalignment was reduced by 72 percent.

Karen Peres who led the research team said the association may be explained by development of the orofacial structures in children who are breast-fed, such as proper muscular tone and nasal breathing. “Unlike feeding with a bottle, breast-feeding requires the baby to move her jaw and tongue in ways that help develop the oral cavity,” Peres said. “So long before baby breaks her first tooth, she is creating the foundation for proper alignment of the teeth.” Others have suggested that the findings may also demonstrate the benefits of getting regular jaw exercise through the act of breast-feeding, which stimulates more jaw muscle tone than bottle-feeding.

The study also found that children who mostly breast-fed but also used pacifiers, were slightly more likely to have an misalignment issue. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents consider using a pacifier for an infant’s first six months because pacifiers are associated with a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), but should wean them between six and 12 months.

Breastfeeding too long may increase risk of future cavities

A 2017 report in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal, found that prolonged (two years or more) breastfeeding actually increases the risk of a child having tooth decay or cavities in the future.

The study, which took place in Brazil, followed 1,129 children who were breastfed until 3, 12 or 24 months, until they were 5 years old and looked at the average number of decayed, missing, and filled primary teeth, as well as severe early childhood cavities.

Children who were breastfed for 24 months or longer had a 2.4 times higher risk of early childhood cavities than those who were breastfed for less than a year. Children who were breastfed between 13 and 23 months did not have a higher chance of cavities.

Dr. Karen Glazer Peres, who led the study had some further explanation for the increased predisposition for cavities. “First, children who are exposed to breastfeeding beyond 24 months are usually those breastfed on demand and at night. Second, higher frequency of breastfeeding and nocturnal breastfeeding on demand makes it very difficult to clean teeth in this specific period.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding babies for a year, and longer if both the mother and child want to continue, but these findings show how crucial it is to take care of children’s teeth at an early age to offset any negative effects of breastfeeding in favor of the many benefits.

Posted In: Oral & Dental Health Tips