A Kiwi researcher has found there is little science to the belief that one of the costs women bear for having multiple children is poor teeth.

Dental researcher Jonathan Broadbent examined the old adage ‘a tooth per child’ to see what scientific evidence there was behind the belief that women’s dental health deteriorates during pregnancy or as a result of having children.

The findings of his University of Otago’s dental research team examination of the connection between pregnancy, how many children women have, their socio-economic status and their dental health were published today in the Australian Dental Journal.

The team concluded that concluded that currently there is no scientific evidence to support that pregnancy exacerbated pre-existing peridontal disease or that multiple pregnancies increased the risk of poor dental health compared to women who didn’t have children.

The belief that a woman’s dental health is likely to deteriorate through having children remained common and may originate from the old wives’ tale ‘a tooth per child’, says the article.  As recently as 2005 about one in five US mothers still believed the adage.

Epidemiological studies suggest an association between how many times a women gives birth and tooth loss but no studies have determined whether the pregnancies led to the tooth loss, the researchers found.  Also a number of studies have reported greater severity and extent of gingival (gum) inflammation during pregnancy.

While not offering evidence that the association is cause, these findings have fueled the hypothesis that pregnancy and parity are risk factors for periodontal disease.

The researchers says the persistence of the old adage ‘a tooth per child’ may be due to the heightened symptoms of gingivitis experienced by many women during pregnancy which can occur due to hormonal changes during pregnancy.

These changes affect the immune response to bacterial plague  but the changes are transient and reversible.

The team considered that failing to receive treatment during or between pregnancies may mean that untreated periodontal disease may be carried into subsequence pregnancies. And women with a number of young children may have less time, energy and finances to spend on dental care and dental appointments contributing to higher plaque levels and gingivitis.

Education, income and occupation are also strongly associated with how many children women have – with lower educational achievement associated with a higher fertility rate and also with ‘unfavourable’ oral health behaviours such as poor diet and poor oral hygiene.  Limited education and financial hardship are also well-known barriers to accessing dental care.

Hormonal changes during pregnancy affect the immune response to bacterial plaque and drive vascular and gingival changes, but further research is required in order to adequately understand the mechanisms involved,” concludes the article.

Based on available evidence, they say it can’t be proven that pregnancy makes dental health worse for women with pre-existing destructive periodontal disease prior to pregnancy. Or that the risk of poor dental health accumulates with each child a woman has or that women with many children experience any worse dental health at the same age then similar women who have not had children.

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