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The Effect of Breastfeeding on Early Childhood Cavities

January 2, 2014

There has been some controversy about the effect of breastfeeding on early childhood cavities. Most have the belief that breastfeeding, particularly at night, is just like letting a baby sleep with a milk bottle. The pediatric and dental associations have divided opinions on this matter.

Different Opinions on Effect of Breastfeeding on Early Childhood Cavities

The Canadian Dental Association supports breastfeeding as it provides nutritional benefits to the infant and is recognized as an effective preventive health measures. In the absence of daily oral hygiene care, breastfeeding is one of the many risk factors that may contribute to the development of dental caries. Therefore, it is vital that mouth cleaning or tooth brushing be part of the daily routine for all infants, including those who are breastfed. CDA Board of Directors - Approved June 2013 Source: CDA Board of Directors, Does Breastfeeding Increase Risk of Early Childhood Caries, JCDA, June 2013, Vol 79, No 5, pg 280-281.

“Breastfeeding ensures the best possible health as well as the best development and psychosocial outcomes for the infant.” American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD)

Infants who are strictly breastfed are more resistant to tooth decay. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD)

The potential for early childhood caries exists for the breastfed child and is related to the extended and repetitive feeding times with prolonged exposure of teeth to fermentable carbohydrate without appropriate oral hygiene measures. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD)

"Ad libitum nocturnal breastfeeding should be avoided after the first primary tooth begins to erupt. If the infant falls asleep while feeding, the teeth should be cleaned before placing the child in bed." Ad libitum means at will, or on cue. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD)

If your child needs a comforter between regular feedings, at night, or during naps, give the child a clean pacifier recommended by your dentist or physician. American Dental Association

The AAPD recognizes the need for further scientific research regarding the effects of breastfeeding and the consumption of human milk on dentofacial growth and oral health. American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD)


The Link Between Breastfeeding and Early Childhood Cavities

It is easy to blame breastfeeding as a cause of early childhood cavities but a link has not been made between the two. According to the Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics:

“These data provide no evidence to suggest that breastfeeding or its duration are independent risk factors for early childhood caries, severe early childhood caries, or decayed and filled surfaces on primary teeth.”

Establishing the Link: Did the Generations Before Formula was Made Suffer from Early Childhood Cavities?

Before formula was invented, every baby was breastfed. Studies of dental records dating from historic times show very little proof that tooth decay existed, even though it is assumed that babies went through prolonged breastfeeding even experiencing night feeding, suckling at their mothers’ breasts.

Breastfeeding is different from Bottle Feeding

Sucking on the bottle is different from sucking on the breast. When a baby sucks on a bottle, the milk is released in front of the mouth and swishes its way around the teeth. When a baby is breastfed, nipple is drawn far back into the mouth to be able to suck it properly, releasing milk into the oral cavity to the throat, stimulating the baby to swallow. Furthermore, nightfeeding on a bottle allows continuous flow of milk while milk won’t flow from the breast unless a baby actively sucks on the breast.

Dental Care for Babies: Identifying Contributors to Early Childhood Cavities

Following the dental care tips for babies endorsed by the American Dental Association together with identifying causative factors of tooth decay in babies can prevent caries to form.

Sugar intake is big causative factor. Once your baby starts feeding on solids, it is recommended that he drinks water every after meal and that you clean the insides of his mouth with a damp washcloth. Once teeth come out, brushing should be done.

Dental Health Promotion

Whether you child is breastfed or not, it is essential that you start bringing them to a dentist as early as possible. This is for a routine dental check-up, allowing your dentist to get a baseline on your baby’s primary teeth, whether they are growing correctly and even to check for tongue ties. Dr. Ted Reese is an Indianapolis dentist who does pediatric cleanings (kids get a toy and a special bag with their own toothbrush and toothpaste) to prevent cavities, frenectomies for children with tongue or lip ties, and traditional or ceramic braces for teens and pre-teens. He practices minimally-invasive dentistry to make it as pain-free as possible (there are also various sedation modalities that can be used) for your child. You can schedule an appointment by calling 317-882-0228.