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Breastfeeding Longer Than 2 Years Linked to Child Tooth Decay

Breastfeeding is fantastic for babies because it offers a wide range of health benefits and provides bonding time for mommy and baby, but a study has discovered that nursing a child past 2 years old can lead to infant tooth decay.

The more frequently a mother breastfeeds her child during the day past 24 months old, the more the risk of severe early tooth decay increases, researchers say.

There are two aspects of breastfeeding—the actual human milk, which has some, but very little, ability to promote tooth decay," says William Bowen, professor emeritus in the Center for Oral Biology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. "The second is the physical aspect of breastfeeding, or even bottle feeding, and that's where the problem arrives.

According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, about 16 percent of babies in the United States were still exclusively breastfed at 6 months last year. It's been found that 40 percent of children that are breastfed between 6 and 24 months have tooth decay. Forty-eight percent of children who breastfeed after the age of 2 have tooth decay.

When babies suck from their mothers' breasts, their teeth are sealed off, and saliva is prevented from reaching their teeth. Saliva helps break down bacteria. Therefore, Bowen recommends that mothers don't let their children remain on their nipples throughout the night and to clean their infants' teeth regularly.

If moms must absolutely breastfeed past two years, there are ways to reduce the risk of tooth decay. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that parents take their children to their first dental visit when the first tooth appears or no later than their first birthday.

Finding the right age to wean a baby off breast milk can be a decision made with the support of a pediatrician, says the study's lead author Benjamin Chaffee, of University of California, San Francisco. But anything that removes carbohydrates and sugars from the oral cavity should help prevent tooth decay.

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