A new study found that breastfeeding for two years or longer increases a child’s risk of severe dental cavities by the time they’re five-years-old, regardless of how much sugar they get from foods.
To investigate the effect of prolonged breastfeeding on children’s teeth, researcher Karen Glazer Peres of the University of Adelaide in Australia and her colleagues analyzed data involving 1,129 children born in 2004 in Pelotas, Brazil, a community that has a public fluoridated water supply.
Breastfeeding data was gathered at birth and when children were three moths, one year and two years old. Information regarding sugar consumptions was collected when children were two, three, and five years old.
Long-term breastfeeding increases risk of severe cavities in children
The researchers found that by age five, almost 24 percent of children had severe early childhood cavities, which the team described as six or more decayed, missing or filled tooth surfaces, according to the new study published in the journal Pediatrics. Almost half of children had at least one tooth surface affected by caries.
The findings show that children who had been breastfed for at least two years, which was almost one-quarter of the whole group, had a higher number of teeth that were decayed, missing or had been filled.
These children’s risk of having severe early childhood cavities was also 2.4 times greater compared with the kids who were only breastfed up to 1 year of age. The researchers noted that breastfeeding for 13 to 23 months had no effect on dental cavities.
“Breastfeeding is the unquestioned optimal source of infant nutrition,” Glazer Peres told Reuters Health by email. “Dental care providers should encourage mothers to breastfeed and, likewise, advise them on the risk.”
To collect information on sugar consumption, researchers used a list of food groups consumed the day before to a medical appointment. At age two, groups were classified as “low sugar consumption,” which meant zero or less than twice daily, and “high sugar consumption,” which meant two or more times daily.
However, the team noted that sugar consumptions were only associated with a greater risk of having severe early childhood dental cavities when children who consumed the highest amount of sugar were compared with kids who consumed the least amount.
Drinking fluoridated water and brushing the toddler’s teeth helps prevent dental caries
The researchers said that subsequent analyses of prolonged breastfeeding, taking into consideration the pattern of sugar consumption throughout the life of the child, showed that prolonged breastfeeding was an independent risk for severe cavities and decayed missing or filled teeth.
“General recommendations such as drinking fluoridated water as well as cleaning a child’s teeth with fluoridated toothpaste before going to bed may help to prevent dental caries,” said Glazer Peres, according to Reuters. “These approaches are in line with most of the guidelines for practice and policy recommendations worldwide.”
Previous studies had shown that breastfeeding lowers risks of asthma and obesity, and helps develop a healthy, good dental bite. However, the debate about how long is too long to breastfeed is an ongoing one.
Mothers who want to breastfeed for longer should follow feeding schedules
According to Dr. Robert Morgan, chief of dentistry at Children’s Health in Dallas, Texas, there is no question that babies who breastfeed for a longer time than recommended by then American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry or the American Academy of Pediatrics have an increased cavity rate.
“The issue is not entirely related to breast feeding,” said Morgan, who was not involved in the new study, according to Reuters. “Babies who sleep with a bottle of mil or take a sippy cup of milk throughout the day or night also have an increased incidence of caries. The real correlation of breastfeeding is perhaps the number of exposure to food and drink that a child has during the day and night due to the ease of access to mom.”
Morgan noted that it’s known that after a baby eats or drinks there is a rise in bacteria, as well as an increase in decay potential for about 20 minutes, after which bacterial growth and concurrent acid production decreases, along with the decay potential. He said that’s why they recommend that toddlers eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with perhaps a mid-morning snack and a mid-afternoon snack. He stressed that if parents brush their child’s teeth after breakfast and dinner, there are only three exposures to increased decay rate times.
According to Morgan, in dentistry, they advise mothers who would like to breastfeed for longer periods to follow the recommended feeding schedule regardless of the feeding methods, whether it’s bottle, breast or cup. He added they also recommend mothers to drink a non-water drink a maximum of five times a day and never at night, and they also encourage the brushing schedule (after breakfast and dinner).