The old wives tale "for every child the mother loses a tooth" has some validity, a New York University dental professor has found.
Women who have more children are more likely to have missing teeth, according to a nationwide study of 2,635 women by Dr. Stefanie Russell, an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology & Health Promotion, which was published today on the Web site of the American Journal of Public Health.
Dr. Russell's conclusions are based on information on white and black non-Hispanic women ages 18-64 who reported at least one pregnancy in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a representative study of the U.S. population.
"This is the first time we've seen a connection between pregnancy and tooth loss affecting women at all socioeconomic levels in a large, heterogeneous sample of the U.S. population," Dr. Russell remarked.
Profound biological and behavioral changes related to pregnancy and child birth are likely to be a factor in tooth loss, according to Dr. Russell. For example:
- Pregnancy can make women prone to gingivitis (gum inflammation). Repeated pregnancies are likely to result in more frequent outbreaks of gingivitis that may lead to tooth loss in women with periodontitis.
- A woman may postpone seeking dental treatment because of financial concerns related to having children.
- Caring for more children may lead a mother to cut back on the time she devotes to her own oral health.
"Although further research is needed on the specific reasons for the link between pregnancy and tooth loss, it is clear that women with multiple children need to be especially vigilant about their oral health," Dr. Russell says.
"We, as a society, need to be more aware of the challenges that women with children may face in getting access to dental care. That means offering these women the resources and support they need -- which can be as simple as making sure a working mother gets time off from work to see the dentist."
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