Most pediatric dentists and orthodontists would agree that encouraging proper facial growth and oral alignment during a child’s formative years makes more sense than waiting for teeth to become crowded. This is also one of the reasons we are pro-breastfeeding for a lifetime of oral health.
Breastfeeding provides the nutrition nature intended your growing child to have and helps her develop emotionally and physically – especially in the oral area. In fact, it’s been proved that breastfeeding your child for at least one year reduces her chances of needing orthodontic treatment by 40 percent.
Here’s a closer look at what breastfeeding can do for your child’s smile:
Proper Palate Formation
Tongue position is one of the greatest influences of facial development. When a child properly latches onto her mother’s breast, the breast’s soft elastic tissue paired with the tongue action required to move milk from the breast down toward the throat creates the perfect combination of pressure, which is key in palate formation.
Studies conducted on adults who were either breast or bottle fed, have shown that adults who were breastfed had arches that developed a U-shape, which gave their teeth optimal space to erupt without malocclusions. Adults bottle-fed as children exhibited V-shaped upper palates that increased their chances of crowding and malocclusions.
The narrowed palate associated with bottle-fed babies can result in blocked airflow during sleep, interrupted sleep and other health problems.
Favorable Lower Jaw Development
The upper palate isn’t the only facial bone that benefits from breastfeeding. The complex movement and action of breastfeeding also promotes correct jaw alignment and increased facial muscle strength.
Some studies have pointed to a correlation between breastfeeding and decay, but breast milk’s unique components and qualities actually give it decay-thwarting abilities.
Breast milk contains:
- Bifidus factor- prevents digestive tract infections, which lowers the pH of the gut.
- Lactoperoxidase – a natural antibacterial agent.
- Oligosaccharides – assists in preventing antigens from attaching to the gastrointestinal tract.
Breast milk also has a pH comparable to water and may even reduce the mouth’s pH more effectively. Bacteria thrive in an acidic environment.
All of these beneficial properties don’t mean breastfeeding parents are exempt from cleaning their child’s gums or teeth as they erupt. Most bacteria found in an infant’s mouth actually has been transmitted by their adult caretaker – think kissing your baby’s mouth or hands. Breast milk is not enough to suppress all bacteria. Make sure you are at least wiping your baby’s gums with a wet washcloth and using an appropriately sized toothbrush as their teeth emerge.
Properly aligned jaws and teeth allow speech to develop correctly.
Other Merits of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding provides the healthiest nutritional start for your child. The act of breastfeeding also promotes a unique emotional connection between you and your child.
Studies have shown there is a strong correlation between breastfeeding and cognitive abilities. Whether it’s the nutrition from the breast milk or the bond between mother and child that is contributing to intellectual development has yet to be determined.
How long should you breastfeed?
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests infants be breastfed for the first six months of their lives, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least age 1. After that, breastfeeding can continue for as long as mutually desired.
Does breastfeeding lead to pacifier use or thumbsucking?
Some studies in Brazil have found that breastfed babies are less likely to suck their thumbs. We suggest not encouraging non-nutritional sucking while breastfeeding. You can refer to this blog if you have questions about how thumbsucking affects your child’s oral health.
Are there circumstances where breastfeeding should be avoided?
Yes. Mothers should seek advice from their primary care physician or their child’s pediatrician if they:
- Are using drugs or undergoing chemotherapy.
- Have cytomegalovirus, TB, Hepatitis B, HIV, Malaria or typhoid fever.
- Are regularly exposed to toxins like lead or mercury.
- Have had breast surgery or have deformed breasts.
- Have a baby with galactosemia or phenylketonuria.
Orthodontic Evaluation by Age 7
We all know that ensuring the lifelong health of your child’s smile involves more than breastfeeding, but it’s definitely a good place to start. As your child grows and her teeth begin to erupt, remember that the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children receive a “well baby” exam by their first birthday. This important exam monitors your baby’s growth and development during the first years.
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends children have an orthodontic evaluation by age 7, or sooner if you notice an issue that you want to have checked by a professional. These evaluations are important at this stage because at age 7, a mixture of baby and adult teeth is present and the bite is established.
Keep in mind that in most cases, no treatment is needed at this point. This is simply a time for us to take a look at your child’s teeth and if no treatment is needed, we will place her in our monitoring program and continue to provide periodic checkups as she continues to grow. But sometimes there are bite issues that begin to appear at this age and in those cases, early evaluation gives me the opportunity to treat these issues now and prevent them from causing more extensive – and expensive – problems in the future.
Examples of issues I may recommend addressing at this stage could include:
- Narrow palate
- Tooth crowding
These are problems that are best corrected when we can put your child’s growth to work for us. Growth patterns can be guided when necessary to inhibit or promote jaw growth as needed, or to widen the palate. Crowding often can be corrected with rubber spacers. Addressing early the potential problems that could become serious often reduces the length of orthodontic treatment in the future. It also can take children off a future surgery path.
Please call our office today if you would like to schedule an orthodontic evaluation for your child. We look forward to seeing you soon!