Breast feeding is best - just ask Your Dentist

Dentists are being encouraged to recommend “exclusive” breastfeeding for at least 3-6 months, for those who can breastfeed, and lactation consultant counselling before delivery. This because breastfeeding is usually better for infant jaw growth and development as well as overall lifelong health.

More women are learning about the many mother-child health benefits of breastfeeding and are choosing to breastfeed for longer periods of time than just a few decades ago. Some women still choose not to breastfeed at all for various reasons including lack of convenience, sickness, family and societal pressures and ignorance of the many health benefits to the infant and mother. Dentists should encourage expectant parents to consult with a lactation consultant (breastfeeding consultant) before delivery because many hurdles exist to successful exclusive breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding places beneficial orthopaedic forces on the jaws. Breastfeeding affects orofacial anatomy and physiology at our respiratory system gateway, during the most important craniofacial formative years. Breastfeeding can orthopaedically jump-start proper jaw growth and have positive lifelong health effects. Dentists should recommend “exclusive” breastfeeding (little or no concurrent pacifier or bottle use) for a minimum of 3-6 months and total breastfeeding for a minimum of 6-12 months.

Breastfeeding is early preventive orthopaedics and orthodontics because suckling forces impact the jaws during a rapid period of growth. Postnatal growth is strongest in the first year of life so positive forces are important for proper jaw growth and development. By 12 months of age, unimpeded, the maxilla increases markedly in size and the anterior part of the mandible that contains the baby teeth (deciduous dentition) more or less attains its adult size. Rhythmic elevation and lowering of the jaw provides sequential changes in tongue positions coordinated with suckling contractions to stimulate growth. The forces of suckling actively act on the jaws like orthopaedic appliances to induce forward and lateral jaw and airway growth, early on. Research shows there are health benefits for a breastfeeding mother too. Breastfeeding for one year may reduce her risks of hypertension, diabetes, breast cancer and heart disease.

Breast suckling aids proper development of the jaws, which form the gateway to the human airway. Breast suckling cultivates positive down and forward growing forces required by both upper and lower jaws. Suckling forces act to spread and widen dental arches. Suckling promotes good swallow muscle tone, which aids proper jaw and airway growth. Research shows children breastfed about one year rarely develop dummy or finger sucking habits.

Bottle, pacifier and digit sucking create backward destructive forces on both upper and lower jaws. Pacifier sucking magnifies negative jaw forces because the “dummy” (pacifier) is often sucked more extensively and with more force than a bottle. Sucking forces generally act to constrict and form narrow dental arches out of soft moldable cartilaginous bone. Sucking promotes poor swallow muscle tone and habits, which interfere with proper jaw and airway growth. Essentially, sucking forces during the extremely critical post-natal growth period block the full genetic growth potential.

Breast-fed babies, suckled infants, are less likely to develop malocclusion–high pre-maxilla, abnormal alveolar ridges and palate and posterior cross-bite. They are less likely to develop allergies. Breastfed infants are much less likely to be overweight, a major risk factor for diabetes, kidney and heart disease. They are much less likely to develop ear infections, insulin-dependent diabetes, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections, diarrhea and lymphoma (a type of childhood cancer). Breastfed babies are less likely to be hospitalized for serious illnesses, less likely to die of SIDS and generally have higher IQs. A 2017 meta-analysis study found breastfeeding for at least 2 months cut the risk of SIDS by 50%.

Bottle-fed babies, sucking infants, are more likely to develop malocclusion. Sucking habits (bottle, pacifier and digits) result in narrower upper and lower dental arches. Sucking infants often have decreased upper and increased lower inter-canine arch width along with a high prevalence of posterior cross-bite. A strong association has been found between exclusive bottle-feeding and malocclusion. Non-breast sucking habits such as fingers and dummies (pacifiers) are strongly associated with crooked teeth and/or jaws (malocclusion). Most bottle-fed infants are sicker in general than successfully breast-fed infants. They are sicker as infants and often for a lifetime. In 2016, researchers estimated that breastfeeding for less than six months caused US$3 billion in increased medical costs and 3,340 premature deaths in the U.S.

By Dr David Page