The Dental Benefits of Breastfeeding
123rf.com/ Evgeny Atamanenko
Virtually every conversation about breastfeeding involves a discussion of its nutritional and emotional benefits. There is no doubt (and studies have conclusively proven) that breastfeeding is superior in every way to the bottle feeding of formula. Mother’s milk is truly one of nature’s miracles. Even with that, the additional benefits of breastfeeding may surprise you!
It turns out the act of nursing initiates a series of physical changes that can make the difference between a lifetime of sickness and a lifetime of well-being.
Compared to the relatively passive process of feeding from a bottle, breastfeeding requires the baby to use a series of complex, coordinated muscle movements. Not only is the nursing baby using a different set of muscles, the baby must also work harder to extract the milk from his or her mother. The use and proper development of these muscles have a major impact on the formation of the jaw, the palate and even the respiratory system.
Insufficient formation of these structures has resulted in major dental and physical problems in today’s society. This is exacerbated when combined with the harmful effects of a high sugar diet. As Weston A. Price’s research in the 1930s showed, jaw size was dramatically reduced when primitive societies were introduced to a high-carbohydrate Western diet.
It is one of the reasons why so many children today experience crowding severe enough to require the removal of third molars (wisdom teeth) and full orthodontic treatment (braces). We are well aware that if not addressed, this crowding will result in a lifetime of poor dental health, mainly in the form of dental decay and gum disease. As holistic dentists, it is frustrating to know that many of the problems we fix on a daily basis are preventable.
While an underdeveloped jaw and palate may seem insignificant, the implications on overall health are not. The resulting overcrowding makes oral hygiene more difficult and cavities and gum disease more likely to develop. Ultimately these minor problems lead to more major dental problems like root canals and even systemic inflammation.
So what happens when a child with crowded teeth goes to see the orthodontist? In many cases (especially in the past), instead of taking the time to widen the arch to accommodate the teeth, the child receives the diagnosis of “having too many teeth for their jaw.” While this diagnosis shortens the treatment time, it makes a bad situation even worse. The removal of these “extra” teeth leads to an even greater constriction of the palate and ultimately reduction of air flow. When combined with enlarged tonsils and adenoids, which also limit airflow, you have the perfect storm. The child is literally fighting for every breath.
Oxygen is without a doubt our most important nutrient (try going without it for a minute) and failure to address these airway issues comes with a huge penalty.
In childhood, lack of oxygen during sleep (usually indicated by mouth breathing, snoring, tooth grinding and dark circles under the eyes) has been linked to both developmental as well as behavioral problems. Many in the dental community now believe airway problems to be a major contributing factor to ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder).
These issues are just as problematic for adults. Breathing issues disturb our sleep pattern (even in people who don’t appear to fit the typical sleep apnea profile), resulting in both physical symptoms such as pain and inflammation, as well as psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression.
Proper jaw development and ultimately proper development of our respiratory system are critical to every facet of our health. What if many of today’s health problems could be prevented, not just with mother’s milk but with the delivery system as well?
Ingo Mahn, DDS, is a 1985 graduate of Marquette University School of Dentistry. He is an accredited member of the IAOMT (International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology) and earned a doctorate in integrative medicine from Capital University, in Georgetown. He is the founder of Natural Dental Partners (602-775-5120), a high-tech, health-centered practice in North Phoenix. For more information and a listing of upcoming events, visit MyNaturalDentist.com.
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