Researchers at the University of Adelaide, in Australia, found that babies who exclusively breastfeed are less likely to develop dental conditions like overbite, open bite, crossbite, or misaligned teeth. Their study tracked more than 1,300 children for five years, examining how much they breastfed at 3 months, 1 year, and 2 years old— and whether they used a pacifier at 3 months, 1 year, 2, and 4. When the babies turned 5, the scientists examined them for signs of misaligned teeth or jaw conditions.

They discovered that babies who were exclusively breastfed for three to six months lowered their chances of developing an overbite by about a third. The risk dropped by 44 percent in infants who nursed for six months or more.

Nursing for three to six months also dropped a child's chances of developing moderate to severe misalignment of teeth by some 41 percent. Similarly, those who breastfed for six months or longer lowered their chances of growing up with moderate or severely misaligned teeth by a whopping 72 percent.

The findings were published online this week in the journal Pediatrics.

One possible reason for this improved dental health is the simple mechanics of nursing. "Unlike feeding with a bottle, breastfeeding requires the baby to move her jaw and tongue in ways that help develop the oral cavity," Dr. Joanna Pierro, a pediatric chief resident at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City, told HealthDay. "So long before baby breaks her first tooth, she is creating the foundation for proper alignment of the teeth."

Interestingly, those excellent odds could be diminished somewhat if your child uses a pacifier. That's because, when overused, a paci can put undue pressure on baby's still-developing jaw and could increase her chances of misaligned teeth or jaw conditions. Of course, that doesn't mean you should throw out your babe's pacifier yet. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests using one to help reduce the risk of SIDS, especially in early weeks. Instead, consider limiting its use and starting the weaning process by the time baby is a year old.

While the study stopped short of providing a cause-and-effect link between exclusive breastfeeding and good dental health, I think the findings may help give nursing moms a little incentive to continue breastfeeding for as long as they can or as long as they see fit.

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Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter Pinterest, and Google+.

Image of breastfeeding baby courtesy of