Breastfeeding & Your Baby’s Oral Health

by | May 14, 2020 | General Health, Healthy lifestyle

woman getting ready to breastfeed her babyThere are lots of benefits to breastfeeding, not least of which are delivering antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria, and a lower risk of conditions like asthma, allergies, and ear infections. 

Breastfeeding is also crucial for your child’s orofacial development, helping their face and jaws grow to their full potential. That means a lower risk of malocclusion (a bad bite), crooked teeth, and future orthodontic treatment.

But one concern some new parents have is whether breastfeeding might also raise the risk of tooth decay – particularly if feeding goes beyond the child’s first 12 months of life or happens frequently at night. 

Since research has delivered mixed messages on this matter, a group of Australian researchers recently chose to investigate further. Does breastfeeding lead to early childhood caries (ECC)? 

Their study, published last month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was straightforward. Breastfeeding practices were reported at 3, 6, 12, and 24 months of age, and free sugar consumption after age one was tracked.  (“Free sugars” means those that are added by manufacturers, as well as the naturally occurring sugars in honey, syrups, and fruit juices.) Dental exams were done at ages 2 to 3. 

The authors found “no independent association” between ECC and breastfeeding beyond 12 months or breastfeeding to sleep. In fact, 

The only factors independently associated with ECC were high free sugars intakes and greater socioeconomic disadvantage. 

No surprise that sugar is the culprit. It always is. As for economically disadvantaged children, lack of education or access to dental care is only part of the problem. Often, food-insecure families lack access to healthy whole foods in their communities, having to depend more heavily on processed food and drinks with added sugars and fermentable carbs – exactly what the doctor and dentist don’t order.

woman breastfeedingBut while the authors of the Australian study note that “breastfeeding should be promoted,” most moms know it isn’t always as easy as it sounds. From leaking or sore nipples to latching issues, breastfeeding can sometimes be tricky. And for working moms, pumping problems can be added to the list, as well. 

Pediatricians, midwives, and support groups can all offer a lot of help and guidance, but if your child is having trouble breastfeeding, you may want to consult your dentist, as well. For nearly 4% of all infants have tongue-tie, a situation in which their frenulum – that tissue connecting the tongue to the floor of the mouth – may be too short, making breastfeeding tough for mom and baby alike. 

The good news is that this – along with the related condition of lip-tie – is easily corrected through a procedure called a frenectomy. Here in our Arlington office, we use a laser to snip the tissue and release the tie, as laser frenectomies deliver far more predictable results with less risk of relapse. No anesthetic is needed, and since the laser simultaneously cauterizes the site, there’s little bleeding. 

Leaving a tongue-tie untreated can have long-term consequences, as well, in both childhood and on into adulthood.

If you think tongue- or lip-tie might be a problem for your child – or yourself – reach out to us for an evaluation. We’d be pleased to hear from you.

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