Breastfeeding is important for the dental health of young children

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  • dental teams should continue to support and encourage mothers to breastfeed
  • not being breastfed is associated with an increased risk of infectious morbidity (for example gastroenteritis, respiratory infections, middle-ear infections)
  • breastfeeding up to 12 months of age is associated with a decreased risk of tooth decay
  • exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for around the first 6 months of life − complementary foods should be introduced from around 6 months of age alongside continued breastfeeding
  • the prevalence of breastfeeding in UK is low, with 34% of mothers still breastfeeding their child at 6 months and only 1% exclusively breastfeeding
  • further advice for dental teams can be found in Health Matters: Child Dental Healthand Delivering Better Oral Health (2014)

Breastfeeding is the physiological norm against which other behaviours are compared; therefore dental teams should promote breastfeeding and include in their advice the risks of not breastfeeding to general and oral health.

Policy advice with regard to breastfeeding and dental health has not changed. Dentists and their teams should support evidence-based guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UK government.

Since 2001 the WHO has recommended that mothers worldwide exclusively breastfeed infants for the first 6 months to achieve optimal growth, development and health.

Thereafter, they should be given nutritious complementary foods as breastfeeding continues up to the age of 2 years or beyond.

These guidelines were reiterated in the WHO’s Global Strategy (WHO, 2003)1 and endorsed by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) in 2003.

In 2018, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) published its report on ‘Feeding in the first year of life’ 2 as a result policy advice with regard to breastfeeding has not changed.

With regard to oral health it concluded that breastfeeding up to 12 months of age is associated with a decreased risk of dental caries.

Healthcare professionals including dentists and their teams should support evidence-based guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UK government.

Cavity-conscious mothers can rest assured their children will not be at increased risk of tooth decay if they can’t breastfeed or they want to breastfeed their children for longer – as long as they have access to fluoridated water, research from the University of Adelaide has found.

The new research, led by Dr. Diep Ha of the University of Adelaide in collaboration with dental and nutrition experts from Australia and UK, published in the Journal of Dental Research, looked at cavities in five and six-year-olds, whether they had been exposed to fluoridated water, and if they had been breastfed as infants and for how long.

The study used data collected in one of the largest and most comprehensive population-based studies of child oral health : the National Child Oral Health Study 2012-14.

Results indicated a sweet spot for breastfeeding and good dental health – more than one month and up to 24 months.

Minimal breastfeeding (no breastfeeding or breastfeeding for less than one month) and extended breastfeeding beyond 24 months were both associated with increased dental cavities.

But these effects were lessened if children were exposed to fluoridated water.

Senior author Professor Loc Do, from the University of Adelaide’s Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health, said dental decay is the most prevalent chronic condition in children.

Breastfeeding is important not only for general health but also for the dental health of young children,” said Professor Do.

“Minimal breastfeeding can increase risk for having dental decay in children, as can sustained breastfeeding beyond 24 months.

“However, potential risk can be reduced by drinking fluoridated water in formula or ensuring that breastfed children are given fluoridated water to drink after the age of 6 months.”

Professor Do said, in fluoridated areas, breastfeeding can be recommended beyond the age of 24 months.

In non-fluoridated areas, breastfeeding for up to 24 months is recommended not only for child general health and development but also for child dental health.

A dialogue between health organisations should be established to maximise benefits of both breastfeeding and water fluoridation.

“The use of fluoridated tap water should be recommended for young children,” he said.

“The dental profession should support and encourage mothers of infants to breastfeed.”

More information: D.H. Ha et al. Fluoridated Water Modifies the Effect of Breastfeeding on Dental Caries, Journal of Dental Research (2019). DOI: 10.1177/0022034519843487
Journal information: Journal of Dental Research
Provided by University of Adelaide

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