Breastfeeding provides essential nutrients that babies need to grow, while also reducing the risk of illnesses. So, can breastfeeding also reduce the risk of tooth decay for your little one? Most research on the topic points to yes.
While a few studies have found links between breastfeeding and dental cavities, most of the research shows that breastfeeding does not cause cavities, and actually reduces the risk of baby bottle tooth decay. That’s because bottle-feeding floods the front of a baby’s mouth and teeth with liquid, while breastfeeding releases liquid to the back of the mouth – meaning teeth aren’t exposed to sugars for extended periods of time.
Breastmilk provides amazing benefits, including antibodies to pathogens in the specific environment, the establishment of “good bacteria” in a baby’s tummy, a strong immune system and antibodies that may hinder or stop bacterial growth (including Streptococcus mutans, which is the bacteria that causes tooth decay).
That said, breastmilk does contain sugar. It’s not worth worrying about, given the many health advantages of breast milk, but you will want to ensure baby’s mouth is kept clean. Sugar feeds oral bacteria that then release acids which weaken tooth enamel. This dental erosion process creates cavities, which often get deeper and bigger over time as the decay works its way down to the soft pulp inside the tooth. Simply stated: sugar eats your teeth.
Pediatric dentists recommend cleaning baby's gums long before baby's first teeth start to appear. Starting a few days after birth, you can begin gently cleaning your little one’s gums and mouth with a clean, soft gauze pad or washcloth once or twice a day to help fight bacterial growth and maintain good oral health. If you are supplementing with formula or other foods that contain sugar while nursing, or your baby is taking medication, it’s especially important to clean the baby’s mouth twice daily.
Breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin which helps your body recover from pregnancy. Breastfeeding also lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and may lower your risk of osteoporosis, too. It can help you regulate your fertility, as ovulation is often suppressed while a mother is breastfeeding. And, it may also help you lose pregnancy weight faster.
It’s hard to keep up with self-care after giving birth but staying healthy benefits both you and your baby. Being pregnant can increase the risk of oral health problem such as gum disease. This is typically due to an increase in hormone levels, and the effects can linger on after you give birth. So, how can you ensure your oral health is in-check as a new mom?
The American Dental Association notes that a new mom may be so focused on the baby that they may skip toothbrushing or flossing. Don’t do that! This can result in dental problems for mom, and for the baby too. The bacteria that causes cavities and gum disease is contagious and can be spread by sharing a spoon or cup, kissing and other contact with saliva. So, be sure to care for your smile daily.
And you may have noticed that you feel really, really thirsty when you’re breastfeeding. That’s because the oxytocin that your body releases during breastfeeding triggers thirst to ensure that you stay hydrated. Your body is so smart!
But don’t worry, breastfeeding won’t dehydrate you and you won’t need (or want) to overhydrate – no one has the time to be running to the bathroom constantly with a new baby. And this is a good thing, because dehydration can lead to dry mouth, which means you don’t have the necessary saliva flow to help protect teeth and keep your mouth clean.
The key to keeping your entire family’s smiles healthy and strong is good dental hygiene and regular dental care. If the cost of dental care is keeping you from seeing the dentist and hygienist, look into dental savings plans – you can save 10%-60% on most dental procedures, including preventive care.