Moms' Emotional Health, Education Influence Teens' Oral Health

Mothers who are emotionally healthy, educated and knowledgeable about health practices are more likely to have toddlers, children and teens with healthier teeth, according to a study by researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine.

Suchitra Nelson, Ph.D., a dental epidemiologist at Case, and her team examined the teeth of 224 adolescents. Some participants had very low birth weight and others were normal birth weight children. Both the children and their mothers were assessed when the children were 3, 8 and 14.

Scientists analyzed the teens' oral health by counting the number of decayed, filled or missing permanent teeth and assessed the level of dental plaque, a symptom for poor oral hygiene.

Mothers completed a questionnaire about preventive treatments from sealants to mouthwashes, sugary juice or soft drink consumption and access to dental care and frequency of dental visits.

Researchers said the data showed that having dental insurance, fluoride treatments and sealants as young children did not always prevent cavities by the age of 14. Using a statistical modeling program that tracked pathways from the teen's dental assessments back to the source of where the oral health originated led researchers to mothers and their overall emotional health, education level and knowledge when children were at ages 3 and 8.

Researchers found if mothers struggled in any of the three areas, the oral health of the teens at age 14 resulted in higher numbers of oral health problems.

"We can't ignore the environments of these children," Dr. Nelson said. "It isn't enough to tell children to brush and floss, they need more—and particularly from their caregivers."

The data showed that mothers with more education beyond high school, with healthy emotional states and knowledge about eating right had children with healthier teeth.

"We cannot ignore these environmental influences and need interventions to help some moms get on track early in their children's lives," Dr. Nelson added, explaining that moms need to care for themselves to help their children. "It's all common sense, but some mothers may need help."

The study appeared in the September issue of the Journal of Dental Research. Support for the study came from National Institute of Health's Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and the Health Resources and Services Administration's Maternal and Child Health Program.

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