Breastfeeding: an overview of oral and general health benefits

J Am Dent Assoc. 2013 Feb;144(2):143-51. doi: 10.14219/jada.archive.2013.0093.


Background: Breastfeeding is the reference against which alternative infant feeding models must be measured with regard to growth, development and other health outcomes. Although not a systematic review, this report provides an update for dental professionals, including an overview of general and oral health-related benefits associated with breastfeeding.

Types of studies reviewed: The authors examined the literature regarding general health protections that breastfeeding confers to infants and mothers and explored associations between breastfeeding, occlusion in the primary dentition and early childhood caries. To accomplish these goals, they reviewed systematic reviews when available and supplemented them with comparative studies and with statements and reports from major nongovernmental and governmental organizations.

Results: When compared with health outcomes among formula-fed children, the health advantages associated with breastfeeding include a lower risk of acute otitis media, gastroenteritis and diarrhea, severe lower respiratory infections, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome, obesity and other childhood diseases and conditions. Evidence also suggests that breastfed children may develop a more favorable occlusion in the primary dentition. The results of a systematic review in which researchers examined the relationship between breastfeeding and early childhood caries were inconclusive.

Conclusions and clinical implications: The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Chicago, suggests that parents gently clean infants' gums and teeth after breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics, Elk Grove Village, Ill., recommends that breastfeeding should be exclusive for about the first six months of life and should continue, with the introduction of appropriate complementary foods, to at least age 12 months or beyond, as desired by mother and child. Dentists and staff members can take steps to ensure they are familiar with the evidence and guidelines pertaining to breastfeeding and to oral health. They are encouraged to follow the surgeon general's recommendations to promote and support optimal breastfeeding and oral health practices among their patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding*
  • Child Development
  • Dental Occlusion
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Milk, Human / physiology
  • Oral Health*
  • Risk Factors