Poor oral health passed down generations

Mothers who suffer poor oral health are likely to have children with poor oral health in adulthood, according to results from a 27-year research project.

A study of over a thousand children born in New Zealand in 1972 and 1973 assessed oral health at ageĀ five and again at age 32 and compared those findings with the self-rated oral health of their mothers measured in 1978. Analysis indicated that 45.1 per cent of the subjects whose mothers rated their oral health as 'very poor' also had severe tooth decay as adults.

The findings strengthen the notion from previous research that adult oral health is affected by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

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 decay and two thirds (66.6 per cent) of children aged 12 found to be free of visible dental decay. The new research suggests that identifying at-risk children from their mother's self-rated oral health could present a means of further reducing decay levels.

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."