Stress in Expectant Mothers May Influence Oral Health in Offspring

There have been several health risks for newborns associated with maternal stress during pregnancy. Low birth weight and risk of asthma and allergies are just a few, but a new study has identified a new concern: a risk for dental caries. Tooth decay is the #1 chronic childhood illness in the United States with approximately 42% of children ages 2-11 having dental caries, or cavities, in their primary teeth, and 21% ages 6-11 having decay in their adult teeth. While poor oral hygiene and high sugar consumption are common causes of dental caries in kids, a team of researchers at King’s College London in the UK have found evidence that levels of stress a mother experiences throughout pregnancy may also play a role.

The study involved the analysis of data from 716 children and their mothers who were part of the 1988-94 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The kids were all aged 2-6 and the mothers were all 30 years old or older. During pregnancy, biological markers of chronic stress were analyzed by assessing blood levels of expectant mothers for high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose and C-reactive protein. Blood pressure and waist circumference were also assessed. Factors such as socioeconomic status, the number of child dental visits, whether mothers breastfed, and whether offspring ate breakfast daily, were among other care-related behaviors that were assessed. The results of the analysis, found in a recent article from Medical News Today, were very telling.

When compared with mothers who had no AL markers, those who had two or more were significantly more likely to have kids with dental caries. Cavities were more common among those who were not breastfed, which was found more among mothers with lower income. These same mothers were also less likely to have taken their kids to the dentist during the previous 12 months and less likely to feed them breakfast every day. Previous studies have linked low socioeconomic status with increased risk of dental caries in children, but researchers in this project claim theirs is the first to identify stress as a driver of this association. The team acknowledges that more research is needed, however, they claim that their findings do suggest that policies to improve children’s dental health should include strategies to improve mothers’ quality of life during pregnancy.

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