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Breastfeeding a Toddler? Never Forget to Brush His Teeth
PHOTO BY Benjamin Magaña/Flickr Creative Commons
  • Breastmilk is the best nutrition available for a growing baby. Moms should still take note that, just like any food with sugar, breast milk has a risk of cavities without proper dental care. In fact, according to recent research, breastfed children 2 years old and above are more likely to have dental caries.

    Researchers speculate that the finding may be linked to on-demand and night-time feedings, the timing of which makes it harder for a parent to brush or clean a breastfed child’s teeth afterward. 

    The study involved analyzing data from more than 1,000 children in Brazil on their breastfeeding behavior and sugar consumption. By age 5, they were taken to dentists to be checked for tooth decay, missing teeth, and cavities.   

    Results showed that the children who breastfed for two years or longer had 2.4 times higher risk for severe cavities, compared to kids who were breastfed for less than a year. This was true regardless of the child’s sugar consumption, according to the report published in the journal Pediatrics

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    “There are some reasons to explain such an association,” said Dr. Karen Peres, lead author of the study and associate professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia told CNN. “Children who are exposed to breastfeeding beyond 24 months are usually those breastfed on demand and at night.” She added that this then makes it “very difficult” to clean the child’s teeth, which may be the case if your child has fallen asleep at the breast, for example. 

    The study should NOT deter any mom from breastfeeding, which Dr. Peres says "is the unquestioned optimal source of infant nutrition." Her study’s aim, she explains, is to shed light on the importance of dental care in children especially in breastfed tots. “Dental care providers should encourage mothers to breastfeed and, likewise, advise them on the risk,” she told Reuters

    Local dentists have also pointed out the risks of giving a child any sweetened drink at bedtime -- be it breast milk, formula or juice. Dr. Georgina Remulla, director of the Philippine Pediatric Dental Society Inc. (PPDSI), told Smartparenting.com.ph that any liquid containing fermentable carbohydrate (sugar, in other words) could cause cavities if left undisturbed for long periods.

    Letting your child fall asleep while feeding can lead to unswallowed milk to remain in your baby's mouth. Because less saliva is produced when a child sleeps, the bacteria in the mouth thrive on the sugar from the milk and produce acids that attack the teeth, causing tooth decay. 

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    If your child is asleep for eight hours every night with milk residue in her mouth, her teeth are exposed to damage night after night, according to Dr. Carina De los Reyes, former president of the PPDSI. It’s also typical that the upper front teeth are the first decay. “The lower front teeth are protected from contact with the milk as the tongue cover and protect them during bottle feeding,” added the pediatric dentist. 

    Experts' advice: make it a point to remove your breast from your child’s mouth once she has fallen asleep. It lessens the chances of milk pooling in her mouth overnight. You may also brush your child's teeth or wipe them with a damp cloth after feeding and before bedtime. 

    Dr. De los Reyes also stressed the importance of a child's first visit to the dentist. It isn't just a checkup. It is to help parents become properly educated “on proper tooth brushing with fluoridated toothpaste,” she said.

    “Fluoridated toothpaste should be used as soon as the first tooth erupts. Fluoride is the best protection against dental cavities.” Find the PPDSI guide on how to pick the right toothpaste for your child here

    Breastfeed for as long as you can, mom! But remember to care for your child's teeth too. 

    What other parents are reading

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