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Study Reveals Link Between Pregnancy and Tooth Loss

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can increase your risk of tooth loss -- speak with your dentist about how you can limit your risk.

You've probably heard that for every child she has a mother loses a tooth. But as dentists and scientists have been telling us for years, poor oral care -- not pregnancy itself -- is the culprit for tooth loss among expectant mothers.

Yet, as much as you try not to, you still seem to have dental problems during your pregnancy that can threaten the life of your teeth. The fact is, although losing a tooth for every pregnancy has long been considered an old wives' tale, there may actually be some truth to the legend of the lost tooth.

Long seen as a myth, a recent study has shown that a correlation does exist between tooth loss and pregnancy. The study suggests that the more children you have, the fewer teeth you end up with -- and this is no nursery rhyme! Statistical data representing women throughout the United States was examined, and while factors such as socioeconomic status and age were taken into consideration, it was the number of pregnancies that trumped this study.

In fact, out of the 2,635 women who participated, those with no children had lost one to two teeth, while women with children tended to lose more. Take, for example, women in the 35 to 49 age range: Those with just one child had lost an average of three teeth, while women with two children lost an average of four. This number of teeth increased to five for women with three children, and seven for those with four or more children.

Dispelling the Myth

Led by Dr. Stephanie Russell of NYU's College of Dentistry, this innovative study may have finally found the missing link between pregnancy and missing teeth. Although further research is needed to determine how pregnancy affects tooth loss, there are some theories that may support Dr. Russell's findings:

Pregnancy Gingivitis -- Pregnant women are highly susceptible to pregnancy gingivitis, a condition that causes red, swollen and bleeding gums. Pregnancy gingivitis can lead to periodontal disease, which can result in tooth loss when left untreated. Frequent outbreaks of pregnancy gingivitis due to multiple pregnancies may increase your chances of developing periodontal disease.

Poor Oral Care -- Parents often have less time for themselves, and as more children enter the picture, personal time dwindles. Unfortunately, busy moms may not take the time needed to focus on their oral hygiene or eating habits, which can greatly affect their dental health.

Avoiding the Dentist -- One pregnancy fable can get your teeth into major trouble. You may have heard you should avoid dental treatment and X-rays during your pregnancy, but that's only partially true. Sometime during your nine-month pregnancy, your six-month dental checkup will come up; a skipped appointment can allow dental problems to fester for quite some time, potentially causing complications for both you and your baby.

It's recommended that you schedule your checkup during your second trimester, and contact your dentist if any dental problems arise. Postponing your dental exam may keep you from getting treatment for pregnancy-related dental problems, including gingivitis. Putting off the dentist on a frequent basis because of multiple pregnancies can greatly increase your chances of having a "dental nightmare" on your hands. Keep your appointment and tell your dentist about your pregnancy so that he or she can provide the right safety measures and effectively treat you.

A Tall Tale

If there is truth to the pregnancy/tooth loss theory, it's not due to a lack of calcium. It's long been understood that the fetus does not take calcium from the mother's teeth, and there's no evidence in Dr. Russell's study that says otherwise. When deficient, our bodies pull calcium from our bones, not our teeth, to contribute to the fetus. Regardless, you should make sure you're getting enough calcium during your pregnancy for both you and your baby.

Pass It On

The results of this study may mean that we need to change the way we take care of ourselves during pregnancy. Whether or not pregnancy causes tooth loss, an important issue has been raised by Dr. Russell, who feels that "women with multiple children need to be especially vigilant about their oral health." An increase in dental health awareness may help keep tooth loss and pregnancy from becoming the norm.

Stepping up your oral hygiene routine will help prevent the dental conditions associated with pregnancy -- periodontal disease has also been linked to premature births, and missing teeth causes other dental problems, including shifting teeth, bite problems, bone loss and even premature aging. It's no fantasy that dental health affects your overall health, so you should continue with your professional dental care to protect yourself and your baby. Optimal oral health can keep you from having some scary stories of your own!