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Maternal Stress Increases Risk for Cavities

Child at the Dentist

Chronic stress during pregnancy is known to raise the risk for a number of factors in unborn children, such asthma, allergies, and low birthweight, among others. A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that it is also a major factor that can lead to increased childhood cavities.

Maternal Allostatic Load, Caretaking Behaviors, and Child Dental Caries Experience: A Cross-Sectional Evaluation of Linked Mother–Child Data From the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

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A Link Between Maternal Stress and Childhood Cavities

Child at the DentistThe researchers who conducted the study were mainly from the King’s College in London and the University of Washington. They analyzed the data of over 700 mothers and children who took part in a 1988-1994 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Biological markers of allostatic load (“wear and tear” on the body) in the mothers such as HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, C-reactive protein, blood pressure, etc. were compared to the presence of childhood cavities in the kids. Compared to mothers who had no chronic stress markers, those who had two or more were much more likely to have children who had cavity problems. Interestingly, the study also found that babies who were not breastfed had significantly more cavities than babies who were breastfed.

When I was in dental school I was introduced to several studies which showed the correlation between cavities, especially childhood cavities, and socioeconomic status. Essentially they all prove one point: the 20% of the population with the lowest income have 80% of the cavities. This study is unique however, because even though it accounts for socioeconomic status, the researchers found chronic stress to be the main driving force of this association. This does not indicate a cause-effect relationship between stress and cavities, but it does highlight need for increased focus on prevention and education for mothers who have the highest stress loads.

What Causes Cavities?

Tooth decay is the leading chronic illness in our country. It has been calculated that over 40% of kids 2-11 years old in our country have had cavities in their baby teeth and over 20% of kids 6-11 have had cavities in their adult teeth. The article above identifies maternal stress as a risk factor, but parents should be aware that tooth decay is directly the result of a bacterial problem. Consumption of sugary foods and drinks combined with poor oral hygiene is the real culprit. Mouth bacteria are able to consume sugar which allows them to adhere to teeth and produce large quantities of acidic byproducts. If not cleaned off regularly and properly, these bacteria can produce enough acid to erode and destroy tooth structure. To protect your children from tooth decay, be sure to follow these steps:

  • Make sure your children brush for two minutes at least twice a day.
  • Help them brush.   I guarantee they’re missing spots and leaving big globs of plaque on their teeth. Be meticulous.
  • Be an example of a regular flosser and make sure your kids floss as well.
  • Make sure your kids have a dental cleaning and checkup every six months. X-rays are a critical part of those visits, so don’t neglect that aspect of the semiannual visit.
  • If you have questions or concerns, feel free to call me at 801-764-9444. I love it when patients take ownership of their dental health and want help doing this.

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