Dr. Stefanie Russell
The old wives' tale "for every child the mother loses a tooth"
may be valid, according to Dr. Stefanie Russell, Assistant Professor
of Epidemiology & Health Promotion. Dr. Russell presented the first
US study to show a link between the number of pregnancies and oral
health problems at the 83rd General Session of the International
Association for Dental Research last March in Baltimore.
Her study found that women who had more children were more likely
to have periodontal disease, more missing teeth, and more untreated
cavities. Although further study is needed to determine the specific
reasons for the link, Dr. Russell offers these hypotheses:
Dr. Russell's study looked at 2,635 white and black non-Hispanic
women age 18-64 who reported at least one pregnancy. The data were
selected from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination
Survey (NHANES III), a nationally representative study of the U.S.
- Pregnancy can have a biological effect on oral health, making
women prone to oral disease. It has been shown that pregnancy
raises the risk of gingivitis, and if a woman has repeated pregnancies
and more frequent gingivitis outbreaks, she may develop periodontal
disease, which could lead to tooth loss if left untreated.
- Many dentists are reluctant to treat pregnant women; and women
who have to care for more children may have less time to visit
- Mothers with several children may be more likely to eat the
"junk food" that their kids are eating.
Dr. Russell's findings suggest that women with several children
need to be especially vigilant about their oral health. "We, as
a society, need to be more aware of the challenges that women with
several children may face in accessing dental care," Dr. Russell
says. "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 her job to see the dentist."