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Oral Health Benefits of Breastfeeding

Our focus this month has been sharing information about the oral health of pregnant moms and children.  This week, the February 2013 issue of The Journal of the American Dental Association magazine arrived on our doorstep and featured a cover story titled “Oral and General Health Benefits of Breastfeeding.”

In recent years, additional knowledge has been gained on the relationship between oral health and overall health.  This is one of the many reasons I love dentistry!  Not only are we caring for our patients’ teeth, gums, and mouths, but we are also positively impacting the overall wellness of those we treat.

This article, written by Dr.’s Salone, Vaunn, and Dee, addressed both general health advantages of breastfeeding and positive oral health outcomes associated with breastfeeding.

Why Breastfeeding and Breast Milk Are Important?

  • Unique properties of breast milk make it the best source of nutrients for infants and breast milk is the only source of nutrition a healthy infant requires for the first six months of life.
  • Breastfeeding reduces an infants risk for:
    • Ear infections
    • Stomach viruses and diarrhea
    • Pneumonia and bronchitis
    • Leukemia
    • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
    • Asthma
    • Obesity
  • Breastfeeding also has positive health benefits for the mother including reduced risks of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Oral Health Benefits of Breastfeeding

The way a baby sucks when breastfeeding is different than when sucking on a bottle.  The movement a breastfeeding infant makes with their mouth is more like a squeezing motion than a sucking motion.  When drinking from a bottle, the infant uses the tongue with a “piston-like” motion to press the bottle nipple against the roof of their mouth.  This difference in motions can lead to increased instances of bottle-fed babies developing a malocclusion.  Malocclusion is a problem in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together in biting or chewing.  Malocclusion can also be caused by thumb or finger sucking. Braces are the most commonly used treatment to correct a malocclusion.

Conclusion

Breastfeeding is a personal choice for a mother and there are many circumstances to be considered for a family when making this decision.  Most mothers would tell you that while rewarding, breastfeeding can also come with its challenges.  When my son was first born, a lactation specialist described learning to nurse as a bit like learning to ride a bike for the first time.  She laughed as she further explained, “The only problem is that both Mom and Baby are trying to learn to ride a bike at the same time and they are helplessly riding directly at one another.”

As dental and health professionals, we are advocates and supporters of breastfeeding.  For more information and support for nursing mothers, visit the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/resources/guide.htm.

Source: JADA, February 2013.  “Oral and General Health Benefits of Breastfeeding” pg. 143-149.