Prolonged breastfeeding linked to higher risk of severe cavities

Keep 'em clean: Dr Mark Morrin, of Morrin Dental in Newcastle, said the importance of baby teeth should not be underestimated, and they should be looked after as soon as they appear. Picture: Simone De Peak.

Keep 'em clean: Dr Mark Morrin, of Morrin Dental in Newcastle, said the importance of baby teeth should not be underestimated, and they should be looked after as soon as they appear. Picture: Simone De Peak.

CHILDREN who are breast-fed long term are more likely to have dental cavities, a University of Adelaide study has found.

But the president of the Australian Dental Association’s Newcastle division, Dr Mark Morrin, says the findings should not deter mothers from breastfeeding, but serve as a reminder to be extra vigilant with oral hygiene.

“Unfortunately there is a perception that baby teeth don’t really matter, because they are transient,” he said.

“But they are really important for speech development and mouth function.

“The second biggest cause of hospitalisation in NSW for children under four is dental decay or problems with baby teeth, so it has become a liability to the hospital system for what is basically a preventable disease.”

The study found the risk of severe cavities was 2.4 times higher for children breastfed for two years or longer, compared to those breastfed up to 12 months.

“We don’t want to discourage breastfeeding beyond two years, but there are some dental risks involved, so their oral hygiene has to be up to scratch,” Dr Morrin said.

He recommended parents not send their child to bed with a bottle, or pacify them back to sleep with a breastfeed throughout the night, when they were less likely to be able to clean their teeth.

“It is very important to look after those teeth before the age of six, so that the six-year-old molars come up in the right position,” he said.

“We are not wanting to denigrate breastfeeding in any way, this is purely to make people aware that if they are breastfeeding for prolonged periods, you just have to be a bit more vigilant in the oral hygiene and prevention.”

In the Hunter Region in the 2016/2017 financial year, 24 children aged between two and four required dental procedures under a general anaesthetic in hospital.

A Hunter New England Health spokesperson said reasons for hospitalisation included dental decay, trauma, and the removal of one or two teeth.

“Children at such a young age can find it challenging/distressing to sit in a dental chair to undertake the procedure, hence need for general anaesthetic,” he said.

The Australian Dental Association recommends parents:

·        Clean their baby’s teeth with a soft cloth or soft children’s toothbrush twice a day.

·        Use a pea-sized amount of low-fluoride toothpaste on their toothbrush from 18 months.

·        Avoid settling children to sleep overnight with a breastfeed or bottle of milk.

·        Wipe their child’s teeth with a moist cloth if they have a milk or bottle feed before bed.

·        Make tap water their child’s usual drink.

·        Avoid giving children frequent snacks. Two healthy snacks per day is ideal.

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