|New York University researchers have discovered a link between family situations and oral health, according to Healthday News.The study, published in the September issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association, found that parents and children in families where verbal and physical aggression were common had more cavities and missing teeth than other families.Parents with poor oral health frequently had verbally or physically hostile partners, and children with mothers who were emotionally aggressive to their partners had more missing, filled or decayed teeth.
Why does this occur? The study suggests that “noxious” behaviors like insults, threats and physical violence may create an emotional environment that counteracts the formation of organized routines. Tooth brushing habits may be disrupted, and stress eating is common. The study also suggested that noxious family environments can disrupt the immune system, leading to poor oral health.
Women in the study had an average of 3.5 additional cavities for every above-average statistical increase in a partner’s noxious behavior, and men has 5.3. Children had an average of 1.9 additional cavities when mothers were emotionally aggressive toward fathers.
The study’s author Michael Lorber told Healthday that “There’s a pretty good history in the [medical] literature of lousy family environments being associated with bad health, so I guess our findings aren’t surprising in that regard.”
Lorber works at NYU’s College of Dentistry as the director of developmental research for the Family Translational Research Group. He added that “We had a really consistent set of findings that the more your partner is nasty to you, the more lesions are on your teeth.”
Lorber and his fellow researchers analyzed 135 heterosexual, mostly white, married or cohabitating couples and their elementary-school aged children. The average annual income of the families was $100,000.
Dental hygienists used oral examinations to determine the number of missing, filled or decayed teeth. Subjective oral health data was measured using questionnaires that the parents and children filled out.
Parents were asked to complete a second questionnaire, which gauged the levels of physical and emotional aggression in the household, as well as discipline techniques. Researchers also observed couple behavior in a laboratory to determine hostility levels.
The authors of the study pointed out that their study doesn’t prove that toxic family behaviors cause poor oral health, but it does imply a connection. They do hope that this will help dentists become better reporters for domestic abuse, rather than just providers of procedures like cleanings, fillings or tooth whitening (on which Americans spend $1.4 billion on each year).
“Dentists are kind of an underutilized point of contact for people, because a lot of people go to their dentists pretty regularly,” Lorber told Healthday. “They’re in a position to screen for a lot of things that might not otherwise get caught. We actually envision a future where a dentist would ask those kinds of questions.”