An interesting presentation in the virtual American Public Health Association Annual Meeting and Expo discussed the beneficial effects on children’s dental health from breastfeeding for 6 months.
Breastmilk contains the two important immune factors that protect against both viral and bacterial invasion immunoglobin M and immunoglobin G. Prior studies have shown the importance of these factors in breastfeeding in reducing obesity and other childhood disease risks.
Studies within the past 3 to 5 years published in the ‘Journal of the American Dental Association’ and ‘Pediatrics’ support the finding that dental malocclusions are preventable with breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. Fewer incidences of open bites, over and under bites and crossbites were noted in the group that had longer overall periods of breastfeeding as opposed to infants that were either not breast fed or breast fed for shorter periods.
Since other factors including inherited jaw sizes, thumbs sucking and extended pacifier use also come into play, there is no guarantee that malocclusion will not occur. Most of these other factors (except heredity) can be controlled by a visit to your dentist to evaluate the dental arrangement and initiate preventive care if warranted. The primary (or baby) teeth have an especially important function in preserving the shape of the jaw and reserving room for the erupting adult teeth. When they are lost prematurely, there is not enough room for the adult teeth to erupt and some typical mal occlusions will start at that time.
Since breast feeding prevents the use of a bottle at bedtime, the prevalence of ‘baby bottle tooth decay’ is reduced. This occurs when the infant is put to bed with a bottle that contains decay producing sugars. Common bottle contents include milk, fruit juice or formula. These may be beneficial to digest but when the pool in the mouth during sleep, they produce large and rapidly spreading areas of decay noticeable by the appearance of dark brown or opaque white spots on the primary teeth. These decay areas can become infected and require complicated procedures to treat.
While breastfeeding can eliminate putting your baby to bed with a bottle, cavities can still be formed since breast milk does contain sugar. The best approach is after feeding, to wipe your baby’s teeth with as moist gauze or damp washcloth. Brush twice a day with a soft brush as soon as the first tooth appears and use a rice grain size amount of tooth paste to avoid swallowing excess amounts of toothpaste.
Since oral bacteria are easily shared, Mom’s mouth should be well cared for as well. The bacteria that cause decay and even gum disease are spread from mother to infant moments after birth. If mom’s mouth is healthy, then the chances of spreading bad bacteria are greatly reduced. See your dentist to make sure that your mouth is in peak condition for your health and your baby’s. Brush, floss, and make sure to stay hydrated, since dry mouth occurs during breastfeeding if dehydrated. Dry mouth is a factor in tooth decay and gum disease as well. It is too easy for a busy mom to skip drinking enough fluids. Breastfeeding increases the requirement to replace fluids, and without adequate intake your risk of gum disease and cavities increases.