This week the Oral Health Foundation investigates the benefits and possible drawbacks of breastfeeding on oral health.

There is some evidence that continued breastfeeding up until the age of 12 months, can offer protection against dental decay.

Karen Coates, Oral health content specialist and registered dental nurse said: “Breastfeeding is the best option for a young baby’s nutrition.

“However, if you choose to prolong breastfeeding over 2 years, you should ask your dental team for advice on the possible risks and seek recommendations on reducing sugary foods and drinks in your child’s diet and to show you how to effectively clean your child’s teeth”.

“Around this age, you will be introducing more solids into their diet which could impact their oral health.  It is always an individual choice to continue breastfeeding of course, but you should make sure you educate yourself to the rewards and the possible risks.”

Taking care of baby teeth is especially important as early tooth decay can impact your child’s quality of life, causing pain and discomfort and even the need to have the affected teeth removed.  This could cause issues with the ‘adult’ teeth later on.  

A study by Peres in Brazil in 2017, reported that in comparison with children breastfed up to 12 months, those breastfed from 13 to 23 months, there was no effect on dental caries. However, those breastfed for over 2 years had a higher number of decayed missing and filled surfaces.

However, these findings are not conclusive as a baby gets older and a wider variety of solid foods are introduced, it is more likely that the child will begin to consume more sugar. Therefore, any dental decay that occurs cannot be solely blamed on breastfeeding. If you are using ready-made jars or pouches of baby food during weaning, remember to check the sugar content as some of these products are made from an apple puree base, which is high in sugar. It is always best to puree home-cooked food for a lower sugar nutritious meal.

More research regarding breastfeeding and its impact on children’s teeth is needed, however, this is unlikely to give any more robust results as whilst more research would be useful it is difficult due to ethical considerations.

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Download this breastfeeding and oral health advice guide

No one wants their children to suffer so making good healthy choices is particularly important including a healthy diet and proper dental care. However, breastfeeding for most mothers is an amazing and bonding experience with their baby, that is not only beneficial for the baby but the mother as well.

You should start to brush your baby’s teeth as soon as they start to come through the gum. Before then you can start cleaning their gums with soft gauze after feeding.

Use a smear of toothpaste that contains 1000ppm (parts per million) fluoride, this toothpaste is suitable from birth until the age of 3. 

Brush for two minutes, last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, using a small-headed, soft toothbrush that is designed for babies. 

In the UK we have some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. Eight out of ten UK women stop breastfeeding before they want to. Often it can be from having to return to work or other societal pressures.

If you have breastfed, you may have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Breastmilk is safe, and clean and contains antibodies that can help to protect against childhood illnesses.

The Oral Health Foundation and SACN recommend that babies should be exclusively breastfed up to six months of age and at least the first year of life alongside giving solid food.

Breastfeeding Week 2023 is focusing on the theme of breastfeeding and work while also looking at the impact on the mouth.

The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) organise this awareness week. It is one of the largest campaigns with The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF taking part.

If you want more information about breastfeeding or to get involved visit Waba Home - World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action.