Stress During Pregnancy Linked to Child Tooth Decay

It is known that women who are stressed during pregnancy could be raising the risk of poor health implications for their child, such as asthma and allergies. A new study, however, has found that chronic stress in pregnancy could increase the risk of dental caries in offspring.

Dental caries, or tooth decay, is a breakdown of teeth caused by bacteria. In the US, 42 per cent of children aged between 2 and 11 have had dental caries in their primary teeth, while 21 per cent of youngsters aged between 6 and 11 have had tooth decay in their adult teeth.

A team of researchers from the Dental Institute at King’s College London and the University of Washington in Seattle set out to investigate the relationship between pre-natal stress and tooth decay in children.

For the study, they recruited 716 mothers and their children who were part of the 1988-94 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The mothers in the study were aged 30 or older and their children were aged between two and six.

During pregnancy, the women’s biological markers of chronic stress were analysed. This involved assessing their blood pressure levels, cholesterol and glucose blood levels, and waist circumference.

Next, the researchers looked at the incidence of dental caries among offspring, as well as the mothers’ socioeconomic status, number of child dental visits, whether they were breastfed, and if they ate breakfast each day.

It was found that those who had two or more markers of stress were more likely to have offspring with dental caries than those who had no markers. What’s more, dental caries were also most common among children who were not breastfed.

Interestingly, mothers with lower income were less likely to feed their child breakfast each day or to have taken them to the dentist in the past year.

Erin Masterson, lead author of the research, said: “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 preventive care.

The study has been published in the American Journal of Public Health.