Women with more children tend to lose more teeth. This is the finding from an extensive European study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.‘Gain a child, lose a tooth’ is a well-known expression suggesting a direct link between the number of children a woman has and the number of teeth she will subsequently lose. Obviously it’s just a saying, but it would appear to have a serious undertone. The subject has never been properly researched.
These days, this old wives’ tale might just be proven to be true. The researchers who carried out the first large-scale study of the assumed link (including Stefan Listl, theme Health care improvement science, professor at Radboud university medical center) just published their results. Their research was based on data from the SHARE (Survey of Health Ageing and Retirement in Europe) databank, which provides information on over 120,000 over-fifties from 27 European countries and Israel.
The researchers were particularly interested in a sub-study in SHARE called Wave 5, which registers the number of births in a family and the number of teeth remaining in almost 35,000 people in 14 European countries and Israel. Listl: “People lose more teeth as they grow older. Their level of education also plays a role.” Women of between fifty and sixty years old have lost an average of 7 teeth. Men over eighty years of age must make do with an average of 19 missing teeth. Highly qualified women and men have a lower risk of losing teeth.
The researchers looked at specific groups in more detail: women who had given birth to twins or triplets and women whose first two children were of the same sex. Listl: “If the first two children have the same gender, the chances of wanting a third child of the opposite sex increase. We see that women in this group lose more teeth than women who have a boy and a girl as their first two children. We found no difference in men.”
Scratching the surface
The conclusion is that within this group of women, the third child clearly costs the mother teeth, but not the father. “Our results for this group are fairly conclusive”, says Listl, “but this doesn’t mean that it applies to everyone. We need to do more research for this, and to discover which factor makes the difference. Is it really a result of pregnancy or is it perhaps an effect of parenthood? We don’t know yet. This research just scratches the surface; we still need to delve deeper.”
Publication in Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health: Gain a child, lose a tooth? Using natural experiments to distinguish between fact and fiction – Frank Gabel, Hendrik Jürges, Kai E Kruk, Stefan Listl
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