Dental cavities are more common among kids whose mothers suffer from chronic stress, according to a new study.
A mother's chronic stress is also associated with lower odds of breast-feeding and fewer dental visits for their children, the researchers found.
"Policy that aims to improve dental health, particularly the prevalence of cavities among children, should include interventions to improve the quality of life of mothers," said the study's co-author, Dr Wael Sabbah, from the Dental Institute at King's College London.
'Wear and tear'
"Chronic maternal stress as a potential risk factor is something we need to consider, in addition to the wider implications of maternal well-being, social and psychological environment on dental health," Sabbah added in a college news release.
However, the researchers cautioned that the study doesn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship between maternal stress and a child's inadequate dental care.
For the study, the investigators examined information from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988-1994) on 716 U.S. mothers and their children aged 2 to 6 years.
The findings showed that dental cavities were more common among kids whose mothers had two or more biological markers of chronic stress, or "wear and tear". These markers included levels of blood fats, such as triglycerides and HDL ("good") cholesterol; blood sugar; blood pressure; and waist circumference.
After considering care giving behaviours including breast-feeding, eating breakfast every day and visits to the dentist the researchers found that cavities were more common among the children who weren't breast-fed as babies. The mothers with at least one of these biomarkers were much less likely to breast-feed, the researchers reported in the issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
Adverse living circumstances
Income level also played a role, the findings suggested.
"Our study indicated that mothers with lower income were significantly less likely to breast-feed or to have taken their child to the dentist in the prior year. They were also less likely to feed their child breakfast than higher-income counterparts," said Sabbah.
"It is important to better understand the dynamics of these links, so that we might develop effective public health programmes and interventions."
It's known that poverty is associated with chronic exposure to adverse living circumstances, added the study's first author, Erin Masterson, from the Schools of Public Health and Dentistry at the University of Washington in Seattle.
"These take a toll on a person biologically and also affect behaviour. This study uniquely highlights the importance of considering the influence of socioeconomic status and maternal stress on children's oral health through mothers' struggles to adopt healthy patterns that are major predictors of dental cavities," Masterson added in the news release.