The Facts About Breastfeeding and Oral Health

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - February 23, 2009

Washington, DC—As the country celebrates National Children’s Dental Health Month, many health care professionals, teachers, and parents are promoting the benefits of good oral health to children. Although it is easy to find accurate information about the proper way to brush and floss, parents often receive conflicting information about breastfeeding and oral health. This has presented a barrier to continued breastfeeding beyond six months of age, when an infant typically begins to develop normal oral flora (bacteria) with the eruption of primary teeth.

Experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics agree with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2010 goals for the nation, recommending exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for the first year of life and as long afterwards as mutually desired by mother and child. Breastfeeding duration has been linked to numerous positive health outcomes for both child and mother. Yet some dental health experts have stated that early weaning is recommended to promote oral health, while other dental experts recommend continued breastfeeding. To resolve these conflicts, the United States Breastfeeding Committee conducted a literature search of current scientific data and convened an expert panel, with funding support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau. The work of the panel culminated in the USBC issue paper, Breastfeeding and Oral Health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that caries (tooth decay) is perhaps the most prevalent of infectious diseases in our nation’s children, affecting more than 40% of children by the time they reach kindergarten. This disease is 32 times more likely to occur in infants who are of low socioeconomic status, whose mothers have a low education level, and who consume sugary foods. Caries in primary teeth can affect a child’s growth, result in significant pain and serious infection, and diminish overall quality of life.

High caries rates occur in families and usually are passed from mother to child, generation to generation. The children of mothers with high caries rates have an increased risk of caries. Therefore, it is important that the mother maintain good oral habits and schedule regular dental visits for herself. USBC also recommends that parents take their infant to a dentist beginning ideally at 7 – 9 months of age or at the time of first tooth eruption, and no later than one year of age, to receive an assessment of their child’s risks for tooth decay and information on preventive measures.

USBC Chair Joan Younger Meek, MD, MS, RD, IBCLC says, “Both breastfed and formula-fed babies can experience tooth decay. The many benefits of breastfeeding, and the risks of not breastfeeding, make it even more important for all health care professionals to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding. Health care professionals working with breastfeeding mothers should be aware of the risk factors for early childhood caries and be able to make appropriate decisions regarding timely and effective intervention.”

For more information about the benefits of breastfeeding, visit The National Women’s Health Information Center. In addition, USBC has published issue papers on Benefits of Breastfeeding and Economic Benefits of Breastfeeding. Both are available for download on the USBC Web site.

Physicians, lactation experts, and other health care providers can offer assistance and answer questions about breastfeeding. Knowledgeable breastfeeding support personnel can be located through the International Lactation Consultant Association, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program, and La Leche League International. Parents with questions about children’s dental health should consult with their dentist or pediatrician. Specialists in pediatric dentistry may be located through insurance providers or the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

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