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Does Breastfeeding Increase Risk of Infant Cavities?

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Several studies over the last four decades have pointed to the possibility of late-night, on demand breastfeeding being a contributor to young childhood dental caries. In 2008, Dr. White did a systematic review of these studies in the hopes of clarifying whether they had substantial evidence that negated the other health benefits associated with breastfeeding.

Benefits of Breastfeeding
Cavities can lead to many other health problems, from cardiovascular complications and disease to bone loss. Yet even with this long list of problems, a claim against breastfeeding would have a lot to counterbalance. Exclusive breastfeeding gives the prime ingredients an infant needs to develop correctly, as well as antibodies and other natural immunities passed on from the mother’s body. Additionally, breastfeeding nurtures both the baby’s and mother’s emotional well-being, and mothers get the added bonus of lowered risk of ovarian and breast cancer. Could cavities be enough to discount all these benefits? This is the question White and her colleagues sought to answer.

Weeding Out Inconsistent Studies
The studies mentioned above posed quite the challenge. Many were discounted due to their vagueness of all the infants’ diets. For example, some based their numbers on infants also drinking water or juice as well as breastfeeding. Another complication that made some studies discredited was the lack of specific duration of breastfeeding that was recorded.

The final three studies and single review article became the foundation for getting down to the reality of whether breastfeeding really could be creating an infant dental problem.

Studies Inconclusive
The moderate quality data they based their conclusions on determined that breastfeeding for longer than one year and at night were clearly associated with cavities within the child’s first six years of life. Despite the probability, White and her team also knew that among these studies, other important and modern factors such as fluoride exposure and dietary habits weren’t taken into consideration. This influences their conclusion: There wasn’t enough evidence to support the claim, but late-night, on demand breastfeeding could be a risk factor among many.

Risk Factors for Baby Tooth Decay
In addition to breastfeeding, there are many factors that have the potential to cause dental caries in our young children’s teeth. Surprisingly, more recent studies have identified the carbohydrates in infant formulas are a major contributor to infant dental caries. Foods and juices with high sugar content are another factor to consider once your child moves beyond a milk diet. Fluoride in drinking water or the mother’s diet can also contribute to the development of tooth decay early in life.

Conclusions Movement into Current Dentistry
The conclusions above still reflect in modern dentistry. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that breast milk is “uniquely superior for infant feeding.” Instead of targeting the obvious oral benefits of breastfeeding (low acid content, and dental defensive chemicals and calcium), doctors and dentists instead focus on teaching new parents the importance of cleaning their infant’s oral cavity and their teeth from the first one that erupts. We’d be happy to be your infant’s dentist, so give us a call to schedule an appointment. We’ll keep their smile healthy from the very first one.

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