A new 27 year research project suggests that mothers with poor oral health are likely to have children who also have poor oral health when they reach adulthood.
The long-term study, of over a thousand children born in New Zealand in 1972 and 19731, provides strong evidence that the children of mothers with poor oral health are more likely to grow up with above average levels of tooth loss, tooth decay and fillings. The findings strengthen the notion from previous research that adult oral health is affected by a combination of genetic and environmental factors2.
The research compared the oral health of the children at the age of five in 1978, and again at the age of 32. The findings were compared with the Mother's own self-rated oral health measured in 1978. Analysis 27 years later indicated that approaching half of children (45.1 per cent), whose mothers rated their oral health as ‘very poor' had severe tooth decay. Around four in every ten children (39.6 per cent) experienced tooth loss in adulthood.
The research commented on the influence of environmental risk factors on oral health including social economic status, attitudes, beliefs and oral health related knowledge persisting across generations, providing further evidence in how a mother's view of her own oral health can affect that of her child's.
Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, said: "These findings represent important confirmation of a trend that has long been recognised. Work by Per Axelsson in Sweden in the 1970s clearly demonstrated that a child's likelihood of decay was determined by the amount of bacteria in the mother's mouth and that this was passed from mother to child.
"If further findings into oral health risks transmitting from one generation to the next can be substantiated, then we must target parents to educate their children in the hope they can better their own oral health and pass the message on to future generations."
Children's oral health has been constantly improving, with just less than one in three (31 per cent) of five year old children showing obvious dental decay3 and two thirds (66.6 per cent) of children aged 12 found to be free of visible dental decay4. With dental decay a totally preventable disease by identifying at-risk children from their mother's self rated oral health, it should be possible to further reduce decay levels. Dr Carter sounds a cautious warning.
Dr Carter said: "The responsibility to improve oral health lies with each and every one of us. Poor dental health is constantly being linked with a variety of diseases, while many people still are not registered with a dentist.
"If we can reach out to these people and encourage them to follow the Foundation's three key messages, of brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, cutting down how often you have sugary foods and drinks and visiting the dentist regularly there is no reason the oral health of the nation and future generations cannot improve even more."
1. Shearer, D.M., Thomson, W.M., Broadbent, J.M., Poulton, R; Maternal Oral Health Predicts Their Children's Caries Experience in Adulthood; J DENT RES; May 2011; 90: 672-677.
2. Khoury MJ (2003). Genetics and genomics in practice: the continuum from genetic disease to genetic information in health and disease. Genet Med 5: 261-268.
3. NHS Dental Epidemiology Programme for England; Oral Health Survey of five year old children, 2007/2008.
4. NHS Dental Epidemiology Programme for England; Oral Health Survey of 12 year old children 2008/2009.