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Moms and Oral Health

Moms may want to give their children the best of everything, but a mother with oral health problems may be passing a painful legacy on to her offspring, according to researchers in New Zealand.

A 27-year-long study suggests that mothers with poor oral health are likely to have children who also have poor oral health when they are adults. The study was published online in the Journal of Dental Research (Jan. 19, 2011).

More than 1,000 children born in New Zealand in 1972 and 1973 were examined at age 5. More than 900 participants were examined again at age 32. Participants’ oral health was compared to 835 of the mothers’ self-rated oral health reported in 1978.

Nearly half (45 percent) of the children whose mothers rated their own oral health as “very poor” had severe tooth decay, and four in every 10 participants had tooth loss as adults.

Researchers theorize that a combination of shared genetic factors and environmental risk factors that affect oral health—including social/economic status, attitudes, beliefs and oral health knowledge—are passed from mother to child.

Scientists say that it’s important for mothers to visit the dentist regularly, improve their own oral health and educate their children in good oral health practices.

The American Dental Association advises parents to teach children the importance of oral hygiene at an early age, so when they grow up they will continue good habits that will contribute to their overall health. Oral hygiene, just like diet and exercise, should be factored together when teaching children how to keep themselves healthy.

Parents should clean their baby's gums with a clean wet gauze pad or washcloth after each feeding. When teeth start to appear, brush them with a child-sized toothbrush and plain water and begin flossing when at least two teeth begin to touch.

Regular dental visits should begin by the child’s first birthday.

By age six or seven, children should be able to brush their own teeth twice a day but often require supervision until about age 10 or 11, to make sure they are doing a thorough job. Since each child is different, your dentist can help you determine whether your child is brushing and flossing properly.

Parents should make sure children continue to visit the dentist regularly. They should also ask the dentist about dental sealants, a protective plastic coating that can be applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth where decay often starts.

Adolescents may need reminders about practicing good oral hygiene, the importance of regular dental check ups and making nutritious food and beverage choices, the benefit of using mouthguards, and the risks of oral piercings and of tobacco use.

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