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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Maternal Stress Linked to More Cavities in Children, Washington Study Finds

Young children whose mothers were chronically stressed had a higher prevalence of cavities, according to a study by the University of Washington Schools of Public Health and Dentistry, and King’s College London.

Erin Masterson

[Photo: Ms. Erin E. Masterson]

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that dental cavities were more common among children whose mother had two or more biological markers of chronic stress, known as allostatic load. Chronic stress was also linked to fewer dental visits and less likelihood of breastfeeding.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 700 mother-child pairs in the United States, with children aged two to six years, from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988-1994). This is believed to be the first study to link maternal stress, as measured by markers, to cavities among children. Although the data is relatively old, the authors said it was a unique opportunity to analyze mother-daughter pairs from a large U.S. study.

The research also considered socioeconomic status, and indicated that mothers with lower income were significantly less likely to breastfeed or to have taken their child to the dentist in the previous year.

“We know that low socioeconomic status is associated with chronic exposure to adverse living circumstances,” said first author Ms. Erin E. Masterson, PhD student in epidemiology and a researcher with the University of Washington School of Dentistry. “These take a toll on a person biologically and also affect behavior.”

Co-author was Dr. Wael Sabbah of the Dental Institute at King’s College London.