How Does Breastfeeding Affect My Child’s Oral Health?

The decision to breastfeed your child is a decision that every mother has to make for themselves and the health of their baby.  Breastfeeding is known to help newborns develop the ability to fight infections and can reduce several health risks including obesity, ear infections, and asthma.  Studies have also shown that mothers who nurse have a lower risk of certain cancers including breast and ovarian.  Breastfeeding also has dental impacts for both the baby and the mother.

Developing Your Child’s Bite

Recent studies published in the American Dental Association found that children who were breastfed for the first six months developed fewer tooth alignment issues.  These include crossbites and overbites.  These findings do not mean that a child won’t need braces, as there are other factors that can impact alignment, such as pacifier use, thumb sucking, and genetics. What is important, however, is to be sure that your little one sees a pediatric dentist before or during any teeth eruption in the mouth. This ensures that when their permanent teeth come in, they will be less likely to need procedures like tooth extractions if they notice any problems with their development or bite early on.

Reducing Tooth Decay

Breastfeeding exclusively has been shown to reduce baby bottle tooth decay.  This is a situation that can develop when baby teeth are continually exposed to drinks containing sugar.  Often this happens when babies are put to bed with a bottle of formula, milk, or juice.  Children given water are less likely to experience this issue.  The upper front teeth are most likely to be affected. One question many parents have is when is the right time to wean my baby off of breastmilk. This answer may be different for everyone.

Some parents believe a child needs to be weaned when teeth start coming in.  That is not always the case though.  The World Health Organization recommends that babies be breastfed for two years.  The Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be breastfed for at least a year.  However, this can be a personal decision when the mother feels that the time is right.

Cavities Can Still Develop

It’s important to understand that every child, even those who are breastfed, can still develop cavities.  Both formula and breast milk contain sugar that can eventually cause cavities.  Caring for a baby’s teeth early on can help prevent them from developing.  It’s recommended that even before baby teeth start coming in, moms should begin cleaning the gums with a piece of damp gauze or a washcloth every day to maintain oral health.  When the teeth start to come in, the teeth should be gently brushed twice a day with a gentle toothpaste.  A drop of toothpaste the size of a grain of rice is plenty for your baby.

Taking Care of Mom’s Dental Health

Part of caring for a baby’s oral health includes taking care of the mother.  If she needs dental work either during pregnancy or while nursing, there are many options available today regarding treatments and medicines, including antibiotics. Your dentist, physician, and pediatrician should be consulted to ensure that all medications and procedures won’t harm the baby.  Another good resource is the US National Library of Medicine’s Drugs and Lactation Database, also known as LactMed.  It can be used to research medications and how it can affect a baby while breastfeeding.  It also provides helpful information about available alternatives.  However, this information should not replace the recommendations of your physician, dentist, or pediatrician.

Helping Create A Beautiful Smile

While your baby’s dental health needs to be monitored closely as they grow and develop, paying attention to mom’s dental health goes along way to protecting both of them.  Being a new parent can lead to a drop off in regular brushing and dental care.  This can lead to cavities and gum disease.  For instance, if a spoon is shared, the bacteria in the mother’s mouth can be transferred to baby’s mouth.  This underscores the importance of maintaining the oral health of both mother and child. At Ponte Vedra Family Dentistry, our team is committed to the whole oral health of your child.  From braces and teeth extractions, to monitoring the development of alignment, we’re here to help your child maintain proper dental care. Contact us today to get started!