Breastfeeding is known for its many benefits. From studies that suggest its ability to reduce the risk of SIDS and obesity to minimizing ear infections, new mothers will also be pleased to learn of the advantages that come with nursing and oral health. Whether you are new to parenthood or a seasoned expert, you can discover more about the possibilities breastfeeding can provide to your little one by reading this post from an experienced pediatric dentist.
Breastfeeding and Cavities: Are They Possible?
If you ask your pediatric dentist whether your baby can develop cavities as a result of breastfeeding, the answer is yes. But before you hurry to switch to a bottle and formula, there are a few important things to know.
Bacteria Don’t Sleep
By exclusively breastfeeding your baby, you minimize the risk of what is referred to as “baby bottle tooth decay.” When an infant is put to bed with a bottle filled with fruit juice or formula, the sugar is allowed to remain on the tooth enamel. As a result, plaque and bacteria produce harmful acids that eat away at the structure of the tooth. Over time, if your baby’s teeth are not cleaned or treated, the mineralization in their tooth will wear down and form a small hole known as a cavity. If you choose to give your baby a bottle when going down for a nap, make sure it contains water.
Oral Hygiene Needs to Start Early
Nursing doesn’t mean you can avoid cleaning your baby’s teeth and gums. Breastmilk, although natural and nutritious, does contain sugar, so after you’ve finished feeding your infant, make sure to use a damp washcloth to gently clean their gums. If one or more teeth are present, use a soft-bristled toothbrush or a finger brush to clean their teeth. If your child is at least 12 months old, you may use a small smear of fluoride toothpaste (the size of a grain of rice) to effectively clean their teeth after feedings. This will remove any remnants and prevent harmful bacteria and acids from negatively impacting their adorable, developing smile.
Night Nursing Can Increase Cavities with Age
As a child ages or reaches 15-18 months, more teeth start to erupt, and their diet can become more diverse. At this point, nursing during the night should occur less frequently. Mothers are certainly welcome to continue breastfeeding after 15 months if they wish; however, it becomes even more important to brush the baby’s teeth at night before bed and try to stretch nighttime feedings as far apart as possible to reduce letting the sugars in breast milk stay on their teeth at night. Age, more sugars from the food they eat, and the bacteria in their mouth can increase their risk of cavities, but sticking to a healthy oral care routine can mitigate this risk. For more details on how you can safely nurse your child after they turn one year old, talk to a pediatric dentist.
Breastfeeding May Help Bite Development
It is no secret that breastfeeding often results in stronger jaw development, as a baby must “work” to retrieve an adequate flow of milk, but studies have also shown it may be linked to improving tooth alignment as well. Although it is no guarantee that your little one will not need braces during childhood, adolescence, or even adulthood, some experts conclude that babies who are exclusively breastfed the first 6 months of their life have a reduced risk for bite problems in the future. Unfortunately, other factors can contribute to the potential need for orthodontic treatment down the road (e.g., skeletal formation, non-nutritive habits, genetics). It is recommended you schedule your child’s first dentist’s appointment when their first tooth erupts or when they reach the age of one. This will allow a pediatric dentist to examine their oral development and determine if problems exist early on.
No matter how you choose to feed your baby, don’t hesitate to ask your pediatric dentist for help. They will provide expert advice, tips, and ways to keep your child’s smile healthy at home.
About the Author
Dr. J. Patrick Bowman earned his Doctor of Dental Medicine degree at the University of Kentucky before going on to earn a master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences and complete a two-year advanced training program in pediatric dentistry at the University of Toledo Medical Center. As a board-certified pediatric dentist in Denver, he and his team at Wash Park Pediatric Dentistry are available to assist new parents with ways to improve the health of their little one’s smile. Whether it is discussing the benefits of nursing or providing tips to better navigate the teething phase of development, you can contact us at (720) 647-6310 or visit our website to find out how we can help you.