Prolonged Breastfeeding May Cause Cavities

July 11, 2017
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

Babies who are breastfed show stronger resistance to viruses and bacteria, ear infections, respiratory illnesses and digestive problems. Even mothers can benefit from the release of the hormone oxytocin, which aids weight loss, as well as a lowered risk of breast and ovarian cancer. However, breastfeeding too long may have unexpected consequences. Continue below to find out how prolonged breastfeeding impacts oral health in children.

Results of a new study suggest breastfeeding exceeding two years can lead to increased caries in children.

Breastfeeding has long been hailed by pediatricians as the superior nutritional source for babies, and can even lower risks of asthma and allergies. But according to new research, too much of a good thing is potentially detrimental.

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests children who are breastfed for two years or more are more likely to develop dental caries. Data for the study was collected over several years from a population of 1,129 children in Brazil, who all had access to fluoridated drinking water from community water supplies. While there have been similar studies conducted in the past, results have not been conclusive as to whether prolonged breastfeeding is a causative factor in the development of caries in children.

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For this study, information regarding rates of breastfeeding was collected at several intervals: when the children were aged three months, one year and two years old. Additionally, rates of sugar consumption were recorded when the study participants were two, four and five years old. To determine how much sugar was consumed by each child, researchers used a food consumption questionnaire given to parents. Low sugar consumption was noted as being zero to less than two sugary food items consumed daily, while high sugar consumption was used to indicate consumption of sugary foods two or more times each day.

At five years old, each of the children in the study was examined by a dentist for any decayed teeth, missing teeth or milk teeth requiring filling as a result of caries formation. Dentists also recorded any severe single caries or severe early childhood caries cases, which is usually differentiated from other types of dental disease by the number of cavities present in patients.

Among the study group, 23.9 percent of the children had severe caries. A full 48 percent of the children were recorded as having at least one tooth surface affected by dental caries. According to statistical analysis, children who were breastfed for two years or more were 2.4 times more likely to have severe dental caries compared to children breastfed for less than a year.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Karen Peres, hypothesized that the trend toward the development of caries in children breastfed for longer periods of time could be explained by night feeding. Children breastfed beyond two years tend to feed on demand at night, which could result in stagnation of milk in the mouths of these children. This stagnation could lead to greater numbers of dental caries.

However, other experts in the field say breastfeeding alone is not the main factor driving cavity formation. They point to other factors, like excessive consumption of sugary foods and lower socioeconomic status, as drivers of cavity development in children worldwide.

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