iHV welcomes PHE/COHIPB paper on breastfeeding and dental decay, and the statement below from Dr Jenny Godson MBE, Chair of the Child Oral Health Improvement Programme Board.

Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, Executive Director iHV, commented:

“Health visitors will be very pleased to have this clarity.”

There have been a number of recent queries received by Public Health England (PHE) and the Child Oral Health Improvement Programme Board (COHIPB) with regard to policy and guidance on breastfeeding and dental decay.

The briefing paper clarifies current evidence and guidance.

Key points from the briefing are:

  • Dental teams should continue to support and encourage mothers to breast feed
  • Not being breastfed is associated with an increased risk of infectious morbidity (for example, gastroenteritis, respiratory infections, middle ear infections)
  • Breastfeeding up to 12 months of age is associated with a decreased risk of tooth decay
  • Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for around the first 6 months of life. Complementary foods should be introduced from around 6 months of age alongside continued breastfeeding.
  • The prevalence of breastfeeding in UK is low with 34% of mothers still breastfeeding their child at 6 months with only 1% exclusively breastfeeding
  • Further advice for dental teams can be found in Health Matters: Child Dental Health and Delivering Better Oral Health (2014)

With regard to the recent British Society of Paediatric Dentistry (BSPD) position statement on infant feeding, it supports breastfeeding and seeks to provide individual level preventive advice to all. With regard to the small proportion of parents who continue to breastfeed after 1 year, the statement advises that with diversification of the infant diet to include foods and drinks other than breast milk or infant formula, the risk of dental decay changes depending upon the free sugar content of the complementary foods and drinks, and how frequently such foods are consumed and access to fluoride through the commencement of tooth brushing with fluoride toothpaste. The BSPD statement recognises these confounding issues, and advises careful consideration of all factors and individual patient counselling.

There is evidence of benefits  to child health including oral health from breastfeeding however levels of exclusive breastfeeding at 6-months remain very low (1%). PHE and BSPD agree that dental teams have a key role to play in supporting and encouraging mothers to breastfeed.