Apologies for the unannounced break for the past few weeks; your friendly neighborhood dental blogger had a baby! Everyone is recovering well, if a little sleep deprived, and now I’m ready to get back to blogging. Incidentally, this week is also World Breastfeeding Week!
About World Breastfeeding Week
The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) coordinates and organizes this yearly event to promote and support breastfeeding efforts worldwide. According to WABA, “breastfeeding is key to sustainable development strategies post-pandemic, as it improves nutrition, ensures food security, and reduces inequalities.” The recent shortage on baby formula in the US brought breastfeeding front-and-center to the national conversation. Breastfeeding is not always an option, and it’s certainly not an easy one regardless. Sadly, it still carries stigma in some communities, which can discourage new parents from trying it. And when they run into difficulties, they may not know where to turn for support.
That’s why World Breastfeeding Week is such a significant initiative. Its main objective? To inform the public about breastfeeding and how to sustain a “warm chain of support” for breastfeeding parents. Perhaps surprisingly for many of our patients, that warm chain of support can also include your dental team here at Lake Baldwin Dental! But what does breastfeeding have to do with dentistry?
Breastfeeding and Dental Development
New parenthood is no cakewalk. From sleep schedules to fussy infants, it can feel like nothing but battles from dawn to dusk for those first few months. Figuring out how to feed a new bundle of joy is not least on that list. Whether formula or breastmilk works best for you, at the end of the day fed is best. However, there are some great dental benefits to breastfeeding we think you should consider.
Breastfed Babies Get Less Cavities
According to a 2020 report from the World Health Organization, breastfed babies suffer less tooth decay than formula-fed babies. “Evidence suggests that infants who are breastfed in the first year of life have lower levels of dental caries than those fed infant formula.” This protective effect may even extend beyond that first year!
Breastfed babies can still get cavities. Just like formula and other forms of milk, breastmilk does contain natural sugars. In general, the data consistently indicates a significantly lower decay risk for babies on breastmilk versus formula. Part of this may have to do with compounds in breastmilk that help inhibit the proliferation of harmful bacteria in the baby’s mouth. Formula doesn’t contain the same immune boosting compounds as breastmilk.
However, it likely has a lot to do with the ways bottles can increase cavities in young children and babies. There is a condition known in dentistry as baby bottle rot. This particular type of rampant decay affects babies who are left to drink from bottles without cleansing the mouth afterward. In particular, it affects babies who are given bottles in their crib so they can continue to sip and hopefully sleep longer at night. When formula, milk, or especially juice, is left to sit in the mouth overnight, it allows bacteria to proliferate and leads to aggressive decay. Regardless of whether you choose to breastmilk or formula, a baby should never be left with a bottle overnight.
Breastfeeding Helps the Mouth Form Properly
It’s not just the milk itself that benefits babies. The action and position of the mouth and jaw during breastfeeding also benefit baby’s dental development. The forces involved in breastfeeding are different from those used in sucking a bottle, pacifier, or fingers/thumb. The positions and forces used in breastfeeding help the jaw and airway form properly, especially in those first six months of rapid growth.
Evidence also suggests that breastfeeding can help those first baby teeth erupt in the right positions. Breastfeeding may help babies avoid more intensive orthodontic work later in life by setting up their jaws for good alignment from the beginning. Thumb sucking and prolonged pacifier use can both deform the hard palate and cause teeth to erupt with poor alignment. There are pacifiers and baby bottles with orthodontic tips that can help to counteract these effects, but research suggests that breastfeeding gets the best results.
Breastfeeding Isn’t Always Easy
Breastfeeding can be a serious challenge. It’s frequently uncomfortable and inconvenient, even in the best scenarios. Working out of the house can make the situation even more challenging, and sometimes impossible. Don’t feel guilty if breastfeeding doesn’t work for you or your baby for logistical reasons!
On top of the difficulty of fitting breastfeeding into your life, there are also physical limitations that can make breastfeeding more difficult or impossible. A tongue tie or tight lips can make it impossible for baby to latch properly. Likewise, certain developmental differences such as cleft palate can cause feeding difficulties. If you want to breastfeed, but it feels too painful or difficult, don’t hesitate to reach out to a lactation specialist for help! In some cases, they may recommend releasing your baby’s tongue tie, in which case your dental team here at Lake Baldwin Dental can help!
Protect Baby’s Oral Health No Matter What They Drink!
Whether you’re able to breastfeed or need to use a bottle, you can help ensure great oral health for your baby right from the beginning. Starting as soon as a few days after birth, you can use a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth to cleanse baby’s gums. When those first teeth pop in, you can likewise wipe them down with a cloth or gauze pad, and start transitioning to a baby toothbrush. You can fluoride toothpaste starting with those first teeth, as well. Use a tiny amount, the size of a grain of rice, for children who can’t spit out the excess. Or, use a fluoride-free toothpaste containing xylitol until your child is big enough to spit. If possible, make cleansing the last thing to happen before bed so there won’t be milk or formula residue left in baby’s mouth overnight.
The other best thing you can do to help your child achieve great oral health is to take care of yourself! Children whose parents have cavities or gum disease are likewise more prone to these problems. There are plenty of theories as to why this is, but part of it is that the bacteria that cause poor oral health can be passed from parent to child. So be sure to call us to get scheduled for your next cleaning and keep your whole family healthy! Keep smiling, Orlando!