The battle between breast and bottle involves much more than nutrition. Children who bottle feed for an extended time, or who use a pacifier or suck their thumb, can experience a number of dental problems, both in the short and the long term. The motion of the mouth and the muscles while sucking can influence the alignment of the teeth, which can remain out of alignment even after the baby teeth have been replaced by permanent teeth.
The Effect of Bottle Feeding
BBC News reported that a study from the University of Milan found that babies who bottle fed in the first three months of life and those who sucked their thumbs or used a pacifier after they turned 1 were more likely to have misaligned teeth later in childhood. The different movement of the mouth is responsible for this impact. BBC News says that when breastfeeding, infants squeeze their lips and tongue to draw out milk. However, when they feed from a bottle or suck, they use a piston-like motion to squeeze the nipple against the palate, using the mouth and lips in a sucking motion. The movement can affect the development of muscles and the alignment of the jaw.
Potential Dental Problems
The most common dental problems found in children who bottle fed or used a pacifier were bite issues. More than one-third of children in the University of Milan study had either an anterior open bite, which means that their top and bottom front teeth did not connect when they bit down, or a posterior cross bite, in which the bottom back teeth did not align with the top back teeth. Children who started bottle feeding before 3 months were more likely to develop a posterior cross bite, while children who used a pacifier or sucked their thumb after their first birthday were more likely to have an anterior open bite.
Misalignment of the teeth can result in much more than a crooked smile. The WebMD website says that crooked teeth and misaligned bites can make keeping the teeth clean a challenge, increasing the risk of cavities and gum disease. A poor bite can also interfere with proper chewing, strain the jaw and muscles, and increase the risk of breaking a tooth. Depending on the severity, a misaligned bite can also lead to the irritation of surrounding tissue, such as the cheek or tongue.
In order to prevent the problems associated with bottle feeding, parents should consider breastfeeding their babies for a longer period. BBC News says that breastfeeding helps to protect against the development of posterior cross bite, even in children who used pacifiers or sucked their thumbs. Limiting use of bottles and pacifiers can also guard against the development of dental problems, as can limiting how long a child sucks his thumb.