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Ask the Dentist: Breastfeeding after 12 months can impact child's teeth

Dentist Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care in Belfast highlights research into how breastfeeding effects infant dental health

New advice has been issued on when to breastfeed children aged over 12 months so as to reduce risk to their dental health

A POSITION statement on infant feeding has been produced by the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD), the organisation committed to improving the oral health of children aged 0-16.

The evidence in favour of stopping bottle-feeding by the age of one has been strong for some time but there has been no clear evidence around breast-feeding and dental health. However, new research published in 2017 found a higher risk of dental decay if breastfeeding continues on demand and through the night after the age of 12 months.

Claire Stevens, President of BSPD, author of the toothfairy blog and a Consultant in paediatric dentistry, said: “There is an emerging evidence-base that suggests that when a baby is breastfed on demand and through the night after 12 months of age following the introduction of solid foods, there is a potential link with dental decay.”

“The age of one is an important milestone. Parents who are bottle feeding are strongly advised to withdraw the bottle by this time and mothers who are breastfeeding may wish to consider reducing night-time feeds.

"Those who choose to continue breastfeeding should get preventative advice from their dentist so the baby has a low sugar diet and its teeth are regularly brushed with a fluoride toothpaste. Ideally, the last thing on a child's teeth at bedtime should always be fluoride toothpaste.”

Claire continued: “Key recommendations of the position statement are that only water or milk should ever be placed in a baby's bottle and bottle-feeding should be phased out as the child reaches their first birthday.”

She concluded: “BSPD continues to support breastfeeding as the best start in life while we also recognise that it is not possible for some mothers. All families should get the support and advice they need on feeding their babies. Caring for the wellbeing of a new mother is of paramount importance.”

The report recommends that from six months, an open-topped or free-flow cup should be introduced. Also ideally try to aim for the child to visit a dentist by the age of one. Thereafter the child should be seen once a year or more to get used to going to the dentist and nip any emerging problems in the bud. Where possible withdraw the dummy and discourage finger sucking after the age of one.

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