As a dentist in Springfield, OR, our team at McKenzie River Dental strives to help educate all of our patients about the importance of quality oral health. While healthy teeth and gums are important to patients of all ages, enjoying quality oral health is especially important for expectant mothers, especially those feelings the effects of stress.
Stress during pregnancy has been linked to a number of poor health concerns for babies, including an increased risk of allergies and asthma and low birthweight. Now, for the first time, a study suggests that chronic stress during pregnancy could increase a child’s risk for tooth decay.
The results of the study were published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Tooth decay ranks at the leading chronic illness for kids in the U.S. Approximately 42 percent of kids between the ages of 2 to 11 in the U.S. have suffered from tooth decay in their primary teeth, while 21 percent of kids between the age of 6 to 11 have suffered from tooth decay in their adult teeth, according to research from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
Poor oral hygiene, combined with increased consumption of foods and drinks high in sugar, rank as the most common causes of tooth decay in children. However, researchers at the Dental Institute at King’s College London suggest that the amount of stress an expectant mother experiences throughout her pregnancy could also play a role.
The research team examined the data from over 700 kids and their mothers who participated in the 1988-1994 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Children examined in the study were between the ages of 2 to 6, while their mothers were all over the age of 30.
Biological markers for chronic stress were examined during a woman’s pregnancy. Specifically, the team determined blood levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, glucose, triglycerides, and C-reactive protein, as well as the circumference of the women’s waist and their blood pressure.
In addition to monitoring the frequency of tooth decay among their children, researchers also assessed women’s socioeconomic status, the number of dental visits for their children, whether mothers breastfed their children, and whether the kids ate a daily breakfast, among other daily lifestyle factors.
When compared to mothers who exhibited no AL markers, women who showed two or more were significantly more likely to have children with tooth decay.
Furthermore, researchers discovered cases of tooth decay among children was more common among those who were not breastfed, and a lower rate of incidence of breastfeeding was significantly more common among mothers living in low-income households.
Low-income women were also less likely to have taken their kids to the dentist at any point during the previous year and were less likely to feed their kids breakfast every day, when compared to mothers with a higher income.
While additional studies have previously linked low socioeconomic status with an increased risk of tooth decay among kids, researchers believe this study is the first to identify stress as a potential driver of this association.
Based on the findings of their study researchers had this to say:
“This study uniquely highlights the importance of considering the influence of socioeconomic status and maternal stress on children’s oral health through mothers’ struggles to adopt healthy patterns that are major predictors of dental cavities, such as brushing her children’s teeth regularly, maintaining healthy dietary habits, and taking regular visits to the dentist for preventative care.”
Researchers did note that the findings of this study do not indicate maternal chronic stress causes tooth decay in children. However, researchers do believe their finding suggest that policies to improve kids’ oral health should include strategies to improve a woman’s quality of life during pregnancy.
While a clear cause and effect relationship was not discovered in the study, researchers still believe that chronic maternal stress should be considered a risk factor for future kids’ oral health problems.