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Study: Breast-feeding Not Cause of Cavities

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Study: Breast-feeding Not Cause of Cavities

Study: Breast-feeding Not Cause of Cavities

November 19, 2007
By: Beth Walsh for Dental1

The alarming rate of cavities among young children is more likely due to smoking during pregnancy or being poor than to breast-feeding, according to a study published in Pediatrics.









Take Action

  • Be sure to get preventive dental care for your toddler. One in 10 of the two-year-olds in the study already had a cavity. Among the 5-year-olds, nearly half (44 percent) had had at least one cavity. Children should visit a pediatric dentist when the first tooth comes in, which usually occurs between six and 12 months of age.

  • Introduce dental cleanings early. Clean your baby’s gums with a soft infant toothbrush and water. As your child gets older, remember that most small children do not have the dexterity to brush their teeth effectively – so they will need your help to brush.



  • Researchers don’t fully understand the relationship between maternal smoking and caries in babies and toddlers, but there are a wide variety of well-proven reasons for pregnant woman not to smoke.

    Researchers at the University of Rochester and New York University analyzed demographic details, dental health data and infant feeding information for 1,576 toddlers whose families participated in the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

    More than a quarter (27.5 percent) of those toddlers had had at least one tooth that had been filled or pulled because of a cavity. Ten percent had severe early childhood caries, the disease that causes cavities. Just over 40 percent of the children in Mexican-American families had at least one cavity. Among children living below the federal poverty level, 41.3 percent had at least one cavity, and 18.6 percent had severe early childhood caries. Children born to mothers 19 or younger were also at increased risk of early childhood cavities.

    The study began as an effort to understand the relationship between breast-feeding and toddlers’ oral health, but the analysis uncovered more potent risk factors. Breast-feeding was associated with 40 percent reduced risk for early childhood caries. However, that conclusion was challenged once factors such as poverty status, maternal age at birth and maternal prenatal smoking were added into the mix. Additionally, breast-fed Mexican-American children and breast-fed poor children were more likely to have cavities than other children, even when compared to those who were not breast-fed.

    Breast-feeding is not protective against caries, said study author Hiroko Iida, dental public health resident at the Bureau of Dental Health, New York State Department of Health, primarily because other factors can negate the positive effect of breast-feeding.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast milk for all infants for their first year of life. However, parents should not let their baby sleep with a bottle of anything other than plain water. At-will nighttime breast-feeding should be avoided after the first primary (baby) teeth begin to erupt.

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