Spring 2005 Table of Contents
Research in Focus
Researcher Finds Link Between Pregnancy and Tooth Loss

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:

  • 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 the dentist.
  • Mothers with several children may be more likely to eat the "junk food" that their kids are eating.
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. population.

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."