Breastfeeding offers many benefits, including good nutrition and a closer bond between the infant and mother. But children who breastfeed for 2 years or more face a higher risk of dental caries, according to the University of Adelaide. While dental professionals aren’t discouraging the practice, though, they do recommend that parents adopt measures to prevent dental caries as early as possible.
The study involved more than 1,000 children from an area in Southern Brazil where the water is fluoridated who were seen multiple times between the ages of 3 months and 5 years. The researchers collected breastfeeding information until the children were 2 years old as well as sugar consumption data at the ages of 2, 4, and 5 years.
Breastfeeding between 13 and 23 months had no effect on caries, but children who breastfed for more than 2 years faced a higher number of decayed, missing, or filled teeth and a 2.4 times higher risk of severe early childhood caries than those breastfed until the age of one year. The risk was independent of sugar consumption and the presence of Streptococcus mutans. The mechanisms behind this risk remain undetermined, the researchers said.
“Parents striving to do their best for their child should be allowed to feed their babies and toddlers as they wish. But our advice is that where possible, from the age of one, mothers who choose to breastfeed their child should aim to do so at mealtimes, rather than on demand, and avoid feeding through the night,” said Claire Stevens, vice president of the British Society of Pediatric Dentistry.
“It is also vital that preventive measures are in place, such as ensuring that the child’s teeth are brushed twice daily as soon as they come through with a flat smear of fluoride toothpaste and that a first dental checkup takes place before the child’s first birthday,” Stevens added.
The study, “Impact of Prolonged Breastfeeding on Dental Caries: A Population-Based Birth Cohort Study,” was published by Pediatrics.
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