Many new and expecting mothers are curious about the relationship between breastfeeding and teeth. You may be hearing all sorts of opinions and proposed facts from doctors and other mothers about how breastfeeding can impact your newborn child’s dental health.
Some sources may say tooth infections and breastfeeding go hand in hand. Others may say breastfeeding is the best way to help develop strong teeth for your child. This can leave you wondering if breastfed babies get more cavities or fewer than nonbreastfed babies.
The truth is that many factors influence your child’s dental wellbeing. Oral care is a comprehensive practice, and breastfeeding can indeed impact it. Consider all factors to be sure you’re doing the best thing for your child. Whether you breastfeed is one of the first and most important decisions you can make for your newborn.
Benefits of Breastfeeding for Your Child
First, know that breastfeeding has many benefits for both you and your child. Let’s look at how breastfeeding can positively impact your baby.
1. Breast Milk Antibodies Help Combat the Effects of Tooth Decay
A 2008 study by dentist Harry Torney revealed that antibodies in breast milk could help counter the effects of tooth decay in babies. The study claims that the natural antibiotic effect of the antibodies from a mother’s breast milk was sufficient in fighting tooth decay when the child already had healthy teeth.
It’s important to note that the study showed that children with unhealthy teeth or soft enamel were still susceptible to tooth decay and cavities.
2. Breastfeeding Can Help Form a Better Bite Structure for Your Child
A child’s bite and jaw structure are important parts of their oral health development. A 2011 study showed that children who breastfeed for at least 12 months were 3.7 times less likely to develop bite issues, including an anterior open bite. Children who were not breastfed for the same length of time had a higher chance of developing this bite structure issue.
This benefit can even help parents financially. Bite structure issues can lead to costly dental and orthodontic work later in life. Correcting dental occlusion, or bite structure issues, is often necessary for a child’s dental wellbeing as they grow. Mothers may be able to lower their child’s risk of developing these issues by breastfeeding.
3. It Provides Colostrum for Your Baby’s First Few Days
Colostrum is a type of human milk, often called “premilk,” that mothers’ bodies produce directly after birth. Colostrum is thinner than mature milk but contains large amounts of antibodies to help keep your newborn baby healthy as it adjusts to the world outside the womb.
Colostrum is also high in protein and lower in sugar than mature milk, making it nature’s healthy way of nourishing newborn infants. It can help keep your baby fuller longer, which is important during those early days.
4. It Helps Nurture a Healthy Digestive System
The colostrum is also easy on newborns’ young digestive systems, helping them get the nutrients they need to keep up with their rapid development. As days and weeks pass, a mother’s breast milk develops along with the baby to keep giving them their essential nutrients in the easiest way possible for their digestive system.
Babies need a lot of calories, so they will want to feed often. Babies will easily digest breast milk so they can be ready for their next meal and get those calories they’re craving. And since breast milk is so easily digested, your baby may have fewer bouts of constipation.
5. Breastfeeding May Help Prevent Diseases, Allergies and Other Health Risks
Cow’s milk and some soy milk formulas can stimulate allergic reactions in children. The risk is higher if you or your partner’s family has a history of allergic reactions. Since human milk is better for a baby’s digestive system, there is a lessened risk of issues and allergic reactions.
Some studies also show a connection between breastfeeding and a reduced risk of diseases and various health risks. In particular, one study showed how pneumonia and gastroenteritis rates declined in children after more mothers began breastfeeding. Specifically, cases of pneumonia dropped by 32.2%, and gastroenteritis rates dropped by 14.6%. These impressive results point to increased immune systems in children who breastfeed.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has reported that breastfeeding helps reduce a child’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Breastfeeding also lowers a child’s chances of becoming obese later in life, a contributing factor to type 2 diabetes. Besides these health benefits, the ADA also states breastfeeding one’s child can lower their risk of health issues like eczema, asthma, ear infections and respiratory disease.
6. It Can Contribute to a Higher IQ
Some research has shown that children who breastfeed may have higher IQs later in life. Researchers still need more information to determine the extent of this connection, but early signs show higher IQs when children breastfeed as infants across socioeconomic statuses.
It’s thought that the fatty acids present in breast milk are responsible for aiding in a child’s brain development. This could improve their IQ as they enter their teenage years and adulthood.
7. Breastfeeding Is Comforting for Your Baby
The act of breastfeeding can be a comfort to your baby. When you breastfeed, you are engaging in skin-to-skin contact with your child. They feel your presence as you nurture them, which can help calm their worries and anxieties.
Breastfeeding can also help your baby enter the right state of mind for bedtime, ensuring a better night’s sleep. Although your child may be unable to retain these memories, the moments of breastfeeding will help establish a bond between you.
Benefits of Breastfeeding for the Mother
Breastfeeding benefits the mother as well as the child. Here are some of the ways a mom’s life can improve from breastfeeding.
1. Helps You Lose Pregnancy Weight
The mother’s body will burn calories when producing milk. If you’re breastfeeding your child, your body must maintain milk production to satisfy the baby’s ravenous appetite. This translates to more calories being burned without the need for a strict diet or exercise routine. Although, eating a good diet and staying fit are still wise decisions for a healthy lifestyle.
Mothers can put on several pounds during pregnancy. Using up these excess calories per day to feed one’s child can help shed some of that extra weight and return the mother to her target weight range.
2. Reduces Your Risk of Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression refers to the emotional and mental changes that can occur in a mother during or after pregnancy. This condition can make day-to-day experiences less enjoyable, including caring for one’s child. But some studies are showing that breastfeeding can reduce a mother’s chance of experiencing postpartum depression.
The effects of postpartum depression can affect all mothers differently. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you think you’re experiencing postpartum depression.
3. Saves You Money
In a more practical sense, breastfeeding can help mothers and parents save money. The first reason is due to the child’s increased resistance to various illnesses and health conditions. A healthier child means fewer days home from school as the child grows up. This translates to fewer sick days from work to be with the child and less money spent on babysitters.
Breastfeeding will also save money on your monthly budget. Baby formula can get expensive, especially when you consider most bodies naturally produce mother’s milk without any extra money spent. You’ll still have to make sure you’re eating a healthy diet and have the accessories you need to breastfeed, but the cost of these items is still far less than the money you’d spend buying formula for months.
Breastfeeding and Oral Health
A connection does exist between breastfeeding and oral health, and it can be both a positive and a negative one. As you read above, breastfeeding can improve a child’s bite. This can help the child require less orthodontic work as they grow up and help keep their mouth easier to clean and maintain.
Some information also points to breastfed babies getting their teeth earlier than babies who lack proper nutritional intake. Essential vitamins and minerals are crucial for a baby’s teeth to erupt in a timely way. Many of these essential nutrients occur naturally in breast milk, meaning a breastfed child could see their teeth coming in sooner than a nonbreastfed child.
The antibodies in breast milk have proven to be an adequate resistance to tooth decay in already healthy teeth. These are definitely positive examples of the relationship between breastfeeding and oral health.
Another oral health issue exists that moms are always looking to spare their children from — cavities. It’s important to understand the root cause of cavities and poor oral health. The cause often goes back to sugar intake.
It all starts with plaque buildup in your child’s mouth. Plaque is an accumulation of bacteria and other particles that cling to a person’s teeth and gums. This bacteria feeds on sugar. It releases an acid that attacks the tooth enamel as a result. The plaque can also find its way beneath the gum line, causing gum inflammation.
Here’s where it ties into breastfeeding — breast milk contains natural sugars. Even though they’re naturally occurring, these sugars can still function as food for unwanted bacteria in your child’s mouth. That means that breastfeeding without proper oral care can contribute to cavities and other negative oral health issues.
The good news is that the pros of breastfeeding may outweigh the concerns, and there are plenty of actions you can take to ensure your child’s mouth stays as healthy as possible from breastfeeding age into their childhood and beyond.
How to Prevent Cavities
Many moms are looking for the best ways to keep their baby’s teeth and gums as healthy as possible, for a good reason. Here are some tips on how to prevent tooth decay in breastfed babies.
Take Your Baby’s Bottle Away at Night
Your child’s risk of tooth decay increases if they experience prolonged exposure to sugars, including the sugars in your breast milk. Breastfeeding at night is safe for your baby’s teeth, but avoid giving them a bottle of your milk to help them fall asleep in the crib. This can allow milk to pool around your baby’s teeth, prolonging sugar exposure. Take the bottle away and give your child a pacifier instead.
Clean Your Baby’s Mouth After Breastfeeding
Cleaning your baby’s gums and teeth after breastfeeding is essential to preventing tooth decay and other dental health issues. If your baby’s teeth have yet to erupt, use a soft, damp cloth to wipe milk residue off their gums. This will keep unwanted bacteria away and help your baby’s breath stay fresh.
For babies with some teeth, use a baby-safe toothbrush and toothpaste to clean their teeth. Brush your baby’s teeth after milk to ensure unwanted bacteria and sugars don’t accumulate. Once your baby’s first tooth erupts, it’s time to start the habit of brushing their teeth. This is also a good time to take them to a pediatric dentist for the first time.
Watch for Mouth Breathing
When a baby breathes through their mouth when they sleep, they are causing their mouth to dry out. This creates an environment where bacteria can thrive since saliva is the body’s natural tooth-cleaning agent. Let your baby’s doctor or pediatric dentist know if your child consistently breathes through their mouth.
Feed Your Baby Healthy Foods as They Wean
When your baby’s teeth start erupting, you can still breastfeed if you and your child both still want to. This is also a good time to introduce more foods into their diet. You can continue breastfeeding from time to time and supplement their diet with new food items.
Make sure these items are healthy. Foods low in sugars and high in essential nutrients will ensure their teeth stay as healthy as possible.
Make Sure You’re Practicing Good Oral Hygiene
Your oral hygiene practices can affect your baby’s oral health because the bacteria that contribute to cavities can travel from your mouth to theirs. Make sure you’re keeping your mouth clean. Limit sharing spoons, cups and kisses with your child to ensure their oral health stays healthy and safe.
Schedule Your Baby’s Dental Appointment at Sprout Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics
It’s important you take your baby to a reputable pediatric dentist once their first tooth erupts. At Sprout Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics, we pride ourselves on creating a comfortable, calming atmosphere in our dental office. Our pediatric dental services provide the care and protection your baby needs for a healthy mouth and a happy smile.
Dr. Dana grew up in Portland and went to Temple University in Philadelphia, PA for dental school. She then moved to Anchorage, AK for her residency in Pediatric Dentistry. Dr. Dana takes a holistic approach to pediatric dentistry & is able to use her own parenting experience to sympathize and understand each family’s unique dynamic.