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Will Breastfeeding Affect Your Baby's Dental Health?

Like many mothers, you probably read up on the benefits of breastfeeding before making your feeding decision. Most books and articles talk about how nursing lowers your baby's risk of SIDS, allergies, viruses and infection. However, very few talk about the how breastfeeding relates to your baby's gums and developing teeth. Did you know that nursing has an effect on your little one's dental health? Many mothers don't. Thankfully, breastfeeding has a positive impact on your baby's teeth, but it's not a miracle prevention for dental problems. Here are 2 positive dental effects to expect from breastfeeding, and 1 negative to watch out for.

Upside: Lower Risk of Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is often associated with eating sugary foods over a prolonged period of time, so many mums are surprised when they hear that their baby could be at risk too. While it's true that mouth bacteria uses sugars to produce its harmful acids, it's not true that unhealthy eating is the only culprit. In fact, a baby doesn't need to be able to eat at all to get tooth decay -- they can get it from their bottle. Aside from water, almost all drinks contain some level of sugar. This includes animal milk and infant formula, as well as fruit juices and other seemingly healthy choices. When babies drink from a bottle, this sugary liquid pools in their mouths and gives bacteria a field day. This is known as baby bottle tooth decay. Breastfeeding eliminates this problem because milk only flows from your breast when your baby is sucking and swallowing. Indeed, studies found that tooth decay was rare in babies before bottles and formula were invented. Some research even suggests that the proteins in breastmilk attack and kill decay-causing bacteria. If you're a breastfeeding mum, rest assured that you're lowering your baby's chances of needing fillings.

Upside: Lower Risk of Crooked Teeth

No one wants their child to have crooked teeth. Aside from the aesthetic downsides, crooked teeth (known as 'malocclusion' to dentists) can have an effect on your overall dental health. Crooked teeth leave more places for bacteria to grow, and it's harder to clean between all the teeth because of their positions. Malocclusion also leads to tooth wear, bad breath, and chewing difficulties. Luckily for breastfeeding mums, a 2015 study found that breastfed babies were 72% less likely to have crooked teeth and 44% less likely to have an open bite.

Downside: Your Baby Can Still Get Dental Problems

Don't get complacent. While breastfeeding can help reduce your baby's chances of tooth decay, cavities, and bite problems, it's can't prevent them completely. You still need to look after your baby's teeth in the same way a bottle-feeding mum would. The best way to further decrease your baby's risk of tooth problems is to begin cleaning them shortly after birth. Moisten a soft washcloth and use it to wipe your baby's gums twice a day, preferably after feeding. When your baby's first tooth comes through, you can begin using a soft toothbrush and a grain-sized amount of toothpaste. To prevent malocclusion, try to wean your baby off of sucking on a dummy or a finger before the age of 3 or 4. Remember to take start taking your little one for dental check-ups at the age of 1 to ensure everything's going well inside their mouth.