Breastfeeding and Your Child’s Oral Health
We get a lot of questions about breastfeeding and your baby’s oral health at Smiles by Shields Dentistry. It’s a topic that a lot of mothers are interested in because there has been a lot of misinformation or conflicting information about breastfeeding and teething over the years. Breastfeeding is one of the most natural things in the world, and it can have an impact on both your baby and you as a mother. Here’s what you need to know about your baby’s teeth and breastfeeding.
Benefits of Breastfeeding for Your Baby
Your doctor has probably already talked with you about some of the health benefits of breastfeeding for your baby, such as boosting his immune system and reducing the risks of childhood obesity, asthma, and other conditions. But, breastfeeding also provides some benefits for your baby’s oral health.
Many research studies have shown that babies that are breastfed exclusively for the first six months are less likely to develop crossbites, overbites, and other issues that may require braces to correct later in life. Breastfeeding won’t completely eliminate the need for braces in all babies, because genetics, using a pacifier, or thumbsucking can sometimes cause bite issues.
How Long Should You Breastfeed?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding only — meaning avoid using a bottle — until your infant reaches six months of age. After that, you can start gradually adding some solid foods, while continuing to breastfeed for baby’s first year. Those are guidelines based on American nutritional standards, but that doesn’t mean it applies to every mother and baby.
The World Health Organization, on the other hand, recommends breastfeeding babies until the age of two. Obviously, every child is different and that schedule might not work for everyone, so it’s important to speak with your child’s health care professionals to see which route is best for them.
A lot of mothers wonder if they should stop breastfeeding once their baby’s teeth begin erupting. That’s a personal choice that every mother has to make, but the answer is that you don’t have to stop breastfeeding then unless you want to.
Bottle-Feeding Your Baby
You’ve probably heard of “baby bottle tooth decay,” and yes, that is a real concern. The issue is not the bottle itself, but what you put in the bottle. A lot of times a baby will fall asleep with the bottle in their mouth because it mimics the feel of nursing and comforts them. But that can leave the baby’s formula, milk, or fruit juice in their mouth for a prolonged period of time. This means that the sugars from those drinks can lead to tooth decay (water in a baby bottle does not cause this issue). The problem is that the teeth then bathe in a sugary liquid while the baby sleeps, and it causes tooth decay, usually in the upper front teeth.
Brushing Your Baby’s First Teeth
Breast milk contains sugar, so it can lead to cavities in your baby just like bottle formula. This is why brushing your baby’s teeth is extremely important until they are old enough to do it on their own. This process can actually start just a few days after giving birth. Before your baby’s first tooth erupts, you can start wiping the gums with a soft, clean washcloth. This will help your baby become accustomed to having his gums massaged before he begins teething.
After the very first tooth erupts, you can begin the toothbrushing process. To do this, dab a tiny amount of fluoride-free toothpaste on your finger, or use a specialized soft-bristled toothbrush for babies. The amount of toothpaste you use should be really tiny — about the size of a grain of rice. Brush your baby’s teeth a couple of times a day like this to promote good oral health.
Many new mothers find that taking care of a baby is a full-time job. As a result, they may not take as good care of their own teeth as they used to. Neglecting your own oral health can lead to cavities or gum disease. It’s important to remember that if you share a spoon with your baby, you can transfer the bacteria that cause these problems from your own mouth to your baby’s. Remember to keep up with your own brushing and flossing, no matter how tired you may be!
Schedule a Dentist Appointment
One of the best ways to ensure that your baby’s teeth are coming in properly and healthy is to bring your baby in for a checkup. Baby’s first appointment should happen within six months of the time when the first tooth erupts through the gums. It’s here where your dentist can evaluate how your baby’s teeth are erupting properly and identify any early areas of concern.
Moms, it’s important to remember to care for yourself as a new mother. Postponing and delaying dental cleaning or procedures can actually make it harder to detect and spot early forms of dental decay or cavities, which can be passed on to your little one.
At Smiles by Shields, we understand just how overwhelming it can be to raise a new baby, and we want to make sure we’re working around your busy new schedule. Give us a call today at (904)-731-0777 to set up your next dental appointment and find out how a beautiful and cared for smile can make all the difference in your new role as a mother! Contact us today to get started!