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Keywords:

  • breastfeeding;
  • caries;
  • children;
  • feeding method

Abstract –  Objectives:  To investigate the impact of feeding habits and daytime sugar intake on the prevalence of early childhood caries in a population where prolonged breastfeeding is a norm.

Methods:  A cross-sectional study was carried out at 18 of 102 public health centers in Tehran. During a 4-day period at each center, between 20 and 35 children aged 1–3 years were enrolled, resulting in a sample of 504 children. In structured interviews, mothers were asked to give information about their child’s feeding habits, daytime sugar intake, and their family’s background. Sugar intake during the night was operationalized as separately calculated burdens of nighttime breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. Clinical dental examinations followed the World Health Organization criteria. Data analysis included chi-square test, t-test, anova, and logistic regression modeling.

Results:  Of the children, 56% were solely breastfed (mean duration 16.6 months; 95% CI 16.0–17.2), 42% were both breastfed and bottle-fed, and 2% were solely bottle-fed. Mean duration of breastfeeding for the solely breastfed 24- to 36-month olds was 22.8 months (95% CI 21.8–23.9). At bedtime, 69% were breastfed, 11% bottle-fed, and 20% were not fed at all. With respect to feeding during the night, 72% of children were breastfed, 12% were bottle-fed with milk, 1% received a bottle with water, while 15% were not fed. Early childhood caries (ECC) occurred in 3–26% of the children, depending on age group (P < 0.001). The burden of milk-bottle feeding at night was a clear determinant for ECC (OR = 5.5) whereas breastfeeding per se, its duration, the burden of breastfeeding at night, and daytime sugar intake were not.

Conclusion:  On account of its association with ECC, milk-bottle feeding at night should be limited, whereas prolonged breastfeeding appears to have no such negative dental consequences.