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Laura Dorr is the executive editor of DPR's Modern Dental Network.
“Jedes kind kostet die mutter einen zahn,” says an old German saying; “every child costs the mother one tooth.” While many people dismiss old wives tales, this is one that has some basis in reality: According to researchers at New York University, the risk of tooth loss and gum disease increases with the number of children a woman bears.
Dr. Stefanie Russell of New York University College of Dentistry studied 2,635 American women, aged 18-64, who had had at least one pregnancy. The study found that many of the women had dental problems, and that with more children came greater risks for gingivitis, periodontal disease and lost teeth.
“While it has been shown that pregnancy raises the risk of gingivitis, the gingivitis usually goes away after the birth of the child,” stated the study. “But if a woman has repeated pregnancies and more frequent outbreaks of gingivitis, she may develop periodontal disease, which, if left untreated, can eventually cause tooth loss.”
In addition to increased rates of gingivitis, pregnant women also have other issues that can affect their oral health, such as vomiting from morning sickness or an increased desire for junk food. Vomiting can erode tooth enamel, making teeth more susceptible to cavities, while consuming large quantities of sugary, starchy foods can also have deteriorative effects on teeth. The research also found that mothers with several children are more likely to eat the junk food that their kids are eating.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has similar results, reporting that although almost a quarter of pregnant women surveyed reported having dental problems, less than half of those women sought treatment.
Russell also noted that, “many dentists are reluctant to treat pregnant women, and women who have to care for more children may have less time to visit the dentist.” She added that women with multiple children might also forgo their own dental care due to a lack of money.
However, the study found that money isn’t everything. Trends in tooth loss were similar in all socioeconomic groups, with women who had fewer children presenting with lower rates of tooth loss. In the highest socioeconomic group, women with no children were on average missing less than one tooth, those with a single child were missing two teeth and mothers with five or more children were missing five teeth. The lowest socioeconomic group reflected a similar trend, with childless women missing on average two teeth, those with one child missing three teeth, and those with four or more were missing more than eight teeth.
The study ultimately concluded that women with multiple children need to be vigilant about their personal oral health. “We, as a society, need to be more aware of the challenges that women with several children may face in getting access to dental care,” explained Dr. Russell. “That means offering these women the resources and support they need.”