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How stressed mums are causing childhood cavities

No-one wants to think their actions could be harming anyone, especially not their own children. However a 2015 study shows a link between a mother’s stress levels and her child’s dental health. Paediatric Dentist Dr Terry Teo from Q & M Dental Kids, explains more.

What is the link between stressed-out mums and tooth decay?
Our lives today are busier than ever and food and drink for kids contains more and more added sugars, in both obvious and subtle forms. This, along with poor oral hygiene, is the chief cause of severe tooth decay and cavities in young children, known as Early Childhood Caries or “ECC”. However, that’s not the only link to this aggressive form of dental decay.

children's teeth, dentists, cavities
Children’s dental specialist Dr Terry Teo offers specialised dental care for kids at Q&M Dental clinics in Novena and Simei

Research from the UK and the US published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2015 studied 700 children aged two to six. The results showed that mothers with elevated stress levels were significantly more likely to have children with tooth decay.

The study found that stressed mothers altered their behaviour to adversely increase the chances of their children developing tooth decay. For example, they had less time to bring their children for regular dental check-ups, which resulted in most dental decay going undetected until later screening.

What was also interesting was that ECC was almost twice as common among non-breastfed children, with highly stressed mothers significantly less likely to breastfeed. This could be due to the alternatives they are drinking from a young age, such as infant formula milk or sugary beverages like chocolate milk or squash. If drunk regularly, especially through a bottle before bedtime, the added sugars in these liquids stick to tooth surfaces and cause tooth decay.

Finally, mothers with higher stress markers were also less likely to personally feed their children breakfast on a regular basis, and these children were at higher risk of ECC, which could be due to less healthy options being offered.

How can busy mums address the problem?
In fast-paced Singapore, it’s almost a given that motherhood will be stressful, especially for families who have relocated from elsewhere. However, it is still possible to achieve optimal dental health for your kids.

children's teeth, dentists, cavities
Q & M Dental Kids @ Simei: waiting room

Early tooth checks
The key is dental awareness, coupled with realistic caretaking goals. Every child should have their first dental check-up by age one. This can help detect decay in the initially reversible stages, before they become actual cavities. It also teaches parents how to care for their child’s unique dental needs.

Wean from the bottle and get brushing early
It is important for all young children to brush their teeth after the last feed at night, as sugars from milk, formula and other sweet drinks can stick to the teeth and cause decay. Weaning from the bottle as early as possible is also advised as liquid can pool in the mouth if the child falls asleep while drinking, exposing teeth for longer periods.

Cut down on sugar at breakfast
Even the busy working mom can still influence their children’s breakfast by ensuring sweet staples such as biscuits, chocolates and flavoured cereals are off the menu. Sugar is the main factor in childhood decay, so it’s always best to go for low-sugar alternatives such as fresh fruit, plain yoghurt, cheese and unsweetened cereals and breads.

Take time for you
Finally, it is important for mothers to actively manage stress levels by taking some time off to do what they enjoy. Not only does this preserve their sanity, but it will also improve the way they care for their child’s dental health.


Q&M Dental aims to bring a high level of expertise and personalised care to children in Singapore. Dr Terry is currently practicing at the Q & M dental clinics in Novena Square (#02-47, 6258 2623) and Simei MRT (#01-08/09, 6741 6819) from Tuesday to Saturday.


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