Breastfeeding has proven to have countless benefits for both mother and baby. Many people are aware that it protects against allergies and eczema, reduces the risk of viruses and certain infections, and can even lessen the threat of SIDS. But did you know that breastfeeding can also affect the oral health of your baby?
Delivers Essential Nutrients
Breast milk provides children with the essential nutrients they need to grow and thrive. Each of these nutrients is important for maintaining healthy gums and teeth, once they erupt. Breast milk contains fatty acids which reduce inflammation, proteins which help build strong jaw muscles, and vitamins needed for good overall oral health.
Aids in Bite Alignment
In a recent study, researchers discovered that babies who were breastfed exclusively for the first six months of their life were 72 percent less likely to develop crooked teeth. This is primarily due to the sucking mechanism that differs between breastfed and bottle-fed babies. Breastfeeding stimulates the lower facial muscles which can help tone and strengthen the jaw. This can reduce the risk of bite alignment as the child grows.
Reduces the Risk of Tooth Decay
While any child can suffer from tooth decay, babies who are bottle-fed are more likely to develop cavities. Baby bottle tooth decay can occur due to frequent, prolonged exposure of a baby’s teeth to beverages that contain sugar; for example, when a baby is put to sleep with a bottle. Breastfeeding minimizes the risk of baby bottle tooth decay as most babies who breastfeed are not usually exposed to milk for as long of a period as bottle-fed babies.
Breastfeeding can also ward off cavities in other ways. Breast milk contains antibodies that help fight back against harmful bacteria in the mouth. This antibiotic effect of antibodies helps to counteract the effect of tooth decay to help children maintain a healthy smile. This is especially important for children who have certain genetic defects or health conditions that cause soft enamel, making them more prone to tooth decay.
Tips for Breastfeeding Moms
Many pediatric dental specialists recommend starting good oral hygiene care before your baby’s first tooth even appears. While you might not be able to see your little one’s teeth, they’re still there. In fact, teeth begin to form as early as the second trimester of pregnancy. Most babies will have 20 primary teeth when they are born, some of which are fully developed in the jaw.
To help care for your child’s smile, follow these simple tips:
- Gently run a clean, damp washcloth over your baby’s gums after each feeding to remove harmful bacteria.
- Once teeth emerge, use a small amount of water, an infant toothbrush, and a dot of fluoride toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice) to brush your child’s teeth.
- When teeth begin to touch, start flossing between them.
- Start teaching your child to spit while brushing around age two. Once your child has reached age three, upgrade to a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
- Schedule a visit to a kids’ dentist by the time your child reaches their first birthday. Your pediatric dentist will perform a basic exam and explain proper brushing and flossing techniques.
- Ask your dentist about applying a topical fluoride if your child is at high risk for tooth decay.
- Promote good nutrition by limiting the number of sugary foods and beverages in your child’s diet. Candy, juice, and other sugary foods and drinks can erode enamel and contribute to cavities.
Breastfeeding and Good Oral Health
While the health of your child is your first priority, it is also important to take time for yourself. Motherhood is a big responsibility but don’t neglect your own health, including your oral health. If you have any more questions about breastfeeding and its connection to oral health, contact the pediatric dentists at Dr. Maggie Davis & Associates in Palm Harbor, Florida today to learn more.