The Importance of Infant Feeding in Maxillofacial Development

babel · May 18, 2023
This article has been written and endorsed by the dentist Vanesa Evangelina Buffa
Infant feeding conditions maxillofacial development. Oral growth depends on what and how babies eat. Keep reading to learn more.

As we grow, our whole body, including the mouth, is formed and acquires its own characteristics, according to the functions we give it. Therefore, the type and manner of feeding during the first years of life influence maxillofacial development. It’s important to take into account that some practices when it comes to infant feeding can hinder the growth of oral structures and predispose little ones to suffer malocclusions in the future. In the following article, we’ll tell you about it in more detail.

How does feeding influence maxillofacial development?

The act of eating is a source of stimuli capable of modeling the shapes and positions of the oral structures. The nutritional needs aren’t the same in a newborn baby as in a six-month-old child or in a child over one year of age. But not only from a nutritional point of view, but also on a functional level.

The nutritional requirements also change so that children can strengthen the functions of their mouth. The growth, shape, and position of the orofacial structures depend on these practices and on how the mouth is used and positioned for their execution.

Through breastfeeding and with the incorporation of soft and solid foods, the child practices and perfects oral functions. With gradual changes in feeding, the child is able to develop sucking, swallowing, and chewing, and thereby synchronize proper breathing.

These activities allow the bones, jaw muscles, teeth, and joints to develop properly. In this way, occlusion and language development problems are prevented in the future. On the other hand, when feeding doesn’t follow a natural progression and certain practices persist over time, the functions of the mouth fail to evolve and strengthen. With this, oral structures may be affected and not develop properly.

A baby breasteeding.
Breastfeeding allows the synchronization of the functions of the oral apparatus, i.e. sucking, swallowing, breathing, chewing, and phonation. The correct development of these practices contributes to preventing dental, oral, maxillary, and facial anomalies.

The role of breastfeeding in the maxillofacial development of children

From birth and during the first six months of a baby’s life, breastfeeding plays a fundamental role in the development of children. Breastfeeding is the healthiest and most beneficial alternative for both the child and the mother. It provides the nutritional, immune, and emotional requirements that the child needs. In addition, the act of sucking the breast implies an oral effort that stimulates muscular action and favors the correct development of the jaws. Over time, this translates into proper dental occlusion.

What about bottle feeding?

Some families, for different reasons, feed their babies from a bottle. Whatever the contents may be, whether expressed breast milk or artificial formulas, the sucking mechanism isn’t the same as that of breastfeeding. By using this accessory, the milk reaches the baby’s mouth more easily and with less effort. The jaw doesn’t need to move much, the tongue remains in a lower position, and the muscles don’t work as hard.

With artificial feeding, there’s a risk of affecting the correct maxillofacial development of the baby. This increases the chances of problems with biting, breathing, speaking, or swallowing. In this regard, if breastfeeding isn’t a possibility, it’s important to choose a suitable bottle nipple to counteract these effects. Choosing a nipple that has a shape and size similar to the nipple of the mother’s breast and a small orifice that favors muscular effort are some strategies to consider.

Finally, withdrawing the bottle in a timely manner is another important aspect. On the contrary, prolonging bottle feeding beyond one year of life can become a negative stimulus for maxillofacial development.

A toddler eating an omelette with his fingers.
Choosing foods that force the baby to chew and avoiding diets with very soft and ultra-processed foods is key to promoting oral functions.

Complementary feeding and maxillofacial development

From six months of age, babies begin the stage of complementary feeding. They incorporate soft, semi-solid, and solid foods into their diet. Breastfeeding still provides nutrients and supports maxillofacial development, but new foods begin to take center stage.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends starting to offer small amounts of food at six months of age, gradually increasing as the child grows. The consistency and variety of foods should also be increased progressively. This variety of nutrients, flavors, and, above all, consistencies and textures, favors the development of oral structures. The child explores new foods and practices chewing.

It’s important for babies to have a varied diet in flavors and nutrients, but also in regard to textures. It’s best to start with a softer food, but it’s also pertinent to offer increasingly solid and hard foods for them to chew. Otherwise, the lack of training in oral functions could lead to malocclusions, crooked teeth, and problems with eating and speaking. This increases the likelihood of having to solve such disorders with orthodontic treatments.

Pay attention to what children eat

As we told you, food is a determining factor in the maxillofacial development of children. Whenever possible, we recommend that you opt for nutrients that promote your baby’s general health and, at the same time, promote oral functions. For example, breastfeeding benefits proper mouth development and helps prevent malocclusions. In addition, eating a variety of foods with different textures also promotes the growth of oral structures.

Taking care of your little ones’ mouths isn’t only about brushing their teeth and reducing sugar consumption. It’s also very important to offer them a balanced, nutritious, and varied diet that maximizes oral functions and favors maxillofacial development.

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