Breastfeeding: Six Things Nursing Moms Should Know About Dental Health
Breastfeeding is considered the oldest practice to feed babies. It is one of the most important activities in infancy and early childhood, not only for the delivery of proper nutrition, but also as a way for the mother and child to bond, with numerous benefits for infants, mothers, and families.
Breastfeeding and human milk are the ideal diet choice for every baby. The process of breastfeeding itself offers many benefits to the infant, including enhanced immune system, balanced nutrition, reduced risk of allergies and chronic diseases, physical and developmental growth benefits, and resistance to infectious diseases. Breastfeeding also has several benefits to maternal health, including lower long-term risk of breast and ovarian cancers, obesity, and osteoporosis, and better physiologic postpartum recovery.
Owing to these benefits, governmental health and human services recommend that infants be exclusively breastfed for six months, and continue to their first birthday and even long afterwards as desired by the mother and child. However, some dental health experts argue that early weaning is recommended to promote proper oral health.
That said, oral health professionals recommend that babies visit a dentist by their first birthday for a thorough oral examination. If there are any risks to breastfeeding, they would be detected at this point and mitigated promptly. Otherwise, here are a few things to keep in mind about breastfeeding and dental health:
Development of a Proper Bite
Studies show that children who are breastfed show greater facial muscle activity compared to those who are bottle-fed because the process of sucking influences the development of facial bones and muscles.
- Adequate development of facial and bite structuresThe tongue and lip movement during breastfeeding forces the child to draw breast milk through a squeeze action, while the process for those who are bottle-fed is more passive. As such, breastfeeding promotes more adequate craniofacial growth and jaw bone development than in bottle-fed children.Bottle-feeding increases the risk of inadequate development of facial and bite structures, and ultimately, a lack of space to accommodate teeth in these children. Moreover, the nipple of the feeding bottle is made from a less flexible material that can press the interior of the oral cavity, which may cause poor teeth alignment and interfere in the adequate growth of the palate.
- Help in the proper development of nasal breathing
The mother’s nipple also adapts to the internal shape of the baby’s oral cavity, ensuring a proper oral seal that in turn results in satisfactory development of nasal breathing. Children with good nasal breathing are less prone to developing an open-mouth posture, which may lead to an excessive vertical facial dimension.
Protection Against Dental Caries
Dental caries are caused by demineralization due to acids released by bacteria in the mouth—Streptococcus mutans—that use sugar as a substrate.
- Breast milk helps fight oral bacteriaBreastfeeding is said to protect against dental caries owing to the composition of the breast milk compared to substitutes, such as infant formula. The main type of sugar found in breast milk is lactose, and is less cariogenic compared to sucrose, which is the main type of sugar in infant formula.Studies show that Streptococcus mutans has a lower ability to metabolize lactose, and instead uses sucrose as a substrate. Moreover, breast milk contains proteins and antibodies that inhibit the growth of the bacteria. Another problem with formula is that some significantly lower oral pH, resulting in demineralization of tooth enamel.
- Breastfeeding facilitates saliva circulation to clean the mouthBreastfeeding also helps to prevent caries based on the anatomy of the mother’s nipple compared to the bottle tip. The bottle nipple tends to block saliva access to the upper incisors, which reduces salivary neutralization and prolongs exposure of the incisors to carbohydrates that feed bacteria in the mouth.At least five studies show that breastfeeding reduces the risk of dental caries by 50%.
Mothers are at Greater Risk of Gum Disease and Cavities
There are many factors that may cause pregnant women to be at greater risk of gum disease and cavities, including calcium deprivation, as more calcium goes to the developing fetus. These risks usually end after birth as the mother’s body begins to return to normal. However, a new problem may arise if the mother is not able to maintain the proper oral routine such as flossing daily and brushing at least twice a day.
- A dip in dental care for mothersWhen nursing mothers lack the time to carry out proper oral care habits like brushing their teeth for at least two minutes, or brushing once a day instead of twice, they are at risk of gum disease and cavities. Cavity prevention is particularly important for mothers because something as simple as sharing a spoon with their child can transfer bacteria into the baby’s mouth. It’s important that mothers do the basics diligently: flossing once a day, brushing twice a day, and visiting the dentist regularly.
- Sharing utensils with your child puts them at risk of dental cariesWhether you’re checking for the temperature or taste of food before feeding your child, it’s extremely risky to share a spoon as this could cause bacteria to transfer from your mouth to theirs. There are other habits that can put the health of the mother at risk, such as teeth grinding, due to postnatal stress, which can lead to head and neck muscle tension that make routine oral care more challenging. The use of medications that enter breast milk should be carefully monitored to avoid harming your baby, and you may even need to stop them temporarily. Please visit your dentist for professional assistance in caring for your oral health and that of your baby.
Professional Dental Advice for Nursing Mothers
Your dental professional has a duty to ensure both your oral health and that of your infant by encouraging breastfeeding. Many dental professionals recommend the following:
- That mothers exclusively breastfeed during the first six months, with continued breastfeeding with solid foods for another 12–24 months or as long as the baby and mother desire.
- That mothers be well-informed on the general and oral health-related merits of breastfeeding.
- That mothers reduce the amount and frequency of sugar intake of their children.
- That dental professionals provide oral hygiene and fluoride advice to mothers according to the age of the child.
Feeding your baby with a bottle is not good for their dental health, especially if they’re allowed to go to sleep with a bottle in their mouth, which could cause the teeth to soak in sugary substances in the formulae, increasing the risk of caries. But when breastfeeding is not possible, perhaps because the mother is taking medication that could be harmful to their baby, or when introducing the baby to new foods, it’s important that you seek help from your dental professional to ensure that you only use safe practices for your child.
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