Lots of moms know that breastfeeding helps babies fight off viruses, lowers their risk of having allergies and asthma, and reduces ear infections, respiratory illnesses and diarrhea.
Here’s one benefit moms may be surprised to learn: breastfeeding may reduce the need for orthodontic treatment later in life for some children, because it helps babies develop proper positioning of the dental arches and promotes an ideal relationship between the upper and lower jaws.
A number of studies have found that exercising the oral and facial muscles while breastfeeding may reduce malocclusion indicators by as much as half. Malocclusion is the term that describes the imperfect positioning of the teeth when the jaws are closed.
A June 2015 study from “Pediatrics” reported that babies who were exclusively breastfed for six months were 72 percent less likely to have malocclusion, according to the American Dental Association. These babies were seen to be less likely to develop open bites, crossbites and overbites than babies who breastfed for less than six months or not at all.
“Parents should keep in mind that there are many other factors that can affect a child’s malocclusion, and breastfeeding can’t override them all,” says Dr. Joseph Tartagni. “Whether a child needs orthodontic treatment in the future also depends on factors such as genetics and poor oral health habits.”
For example, some children develop malocclusion due to prolonged use of pacifiers, or sucking their fingers or thumbs.
Other breastfeeding oral health benefits include:
- Reduced risk of baby bottle tooth decay, which can occur when a baby’s teeth have a lengthy exposure to sugary drinks, including fruit juices. It is more common among babies that are put to bed with a bottle.
- Promotes nasal breathing, which helps position the tongue properly and promotes proper oral muscle development. This also prevents abnormal swallowing patterns, promotes correct palate formation, and increases salivary flow.
Breastfeeding and Tooth Decay
There has been some controversy over the connection between breastfeeding after the first year and tooth decay. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics has reported that factors such as poverty, Mexican American ethnic status, and maternal smoking are more responsible for tooth decay than breastfeeding.
Oral health, infant feeding, and other child and family characteristics data have revealed no evidence that suggests breastfeeding or its duration are tooth decay risk factors, the AAP reported.
One of the best things parents can do to help prevent tooth decay in early childhood is to gently wipe the baby’s gums with a damp cloth after feedings.
Once your baby reaches age 1 or the first teeth erupt, it’s time to establish a dental home. We treat children, and we understand that your child’s early dental experiences can shape future dental health.
Our team is dedicated to compassionate pediatric dentistry and we strive to make your child’s visit pleasant. We will help your child become comfortable in our office as we explain in age appropriate terms the purpose and benefits of visiting the dentist. We’ll emphasize the need for good dental care and take an honest, sincere approach to pediatric dentistry to earn your child’s confidence and trust.