Dental Tribune Europe

Study reveals possible link between tooth loss in mothers and family size

NIJMEGEN, Netherlands: Being a mum is no easy job. The bigger the family, the less time there may be for self-care and things like oral health may become secondary. In a new study from Europe, researchers have found that having a larger family may be linked to higher tooth loss in mothers—suggesting the old saying “gain a child, lose a tooth” might have more truth to it than first thought.

According to the researchers, there was no solid evidence to prove the notion that larger families leads to tooth loss in mothers. To investigate this, they drew on data from Wave 5 of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). SHARE contains information on the health, educational attainment and household income of more than 120,000 adults aged 50 years and over from 27 European countries and Israel. Wave 5 was completed in 2013 and included questions on the full reproductive history and number of natural teeth of 34,843 survey respondents, with an average age of 67.

Looking at the potential impact of having twins or triplets rather than singletons, the researchers also took into account the sex of the first two children, on the assumption that if the first two were of the same sex, the parents might be tempted to try for a third child. To analyse the data, they applied a statistical technique that exploits random natural variation in a variable that is only associated with the exposure and affects the outcome only through that exposure, essentially mimicking a randomised controlled trial.

According to the results, women with three children had an average of four fewer teeth than women with two children, suggesting the addition of a third child may very well be detrimental to the oral health of mothers. On a potentially controversial note, the study’s data pointed to there being no direct effect to the oral health of fathers in the case of a third child. However, tooth loss also increased with age, ranging from nearly seven fewer teeth for women between 50 and 60 and up to 19 fewer teeth for men aged 80 and above. Higher levels of educational attainment were also linked to lower risk of tooth loss among women.

Commenting on the results, the researchers suggested enhanced promotion of oral hygiene, tooth-friendly nutrition and regular preventative dental attendance, specifically targeted at expecting and parenting mothers, would be sensible strategies for clinicians and health policymakers.

The study, titled “Gain a child, lose a tooth? Using natural experiments to distinguish between fact and fiction”, was published online on 13 March in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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