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Childhood Trauma and Oral Health

A postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan has revealed the results of a heartbreaking new study about how childhood trauma affects adult oral health. The researcher, Haena Lee, used data from the 2012 Health and Retirement Study to correlate the condition of patients' oral health to events that occurred in their childhood.

To do this, Lee looked at survey respondents' answers about whether they have teeth, their education level, their poverty level and their childhood experiences. She then used the data to examine three aspects of each person’s life: the person’s most impressionable formative years; the "accumulation model," which studies the accumulation of the negative events the subject experienced; and the subject’s socioeconomic status throughout life. Her findings were nothing short of devastating.

According to the study, which was published in the journal Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, Lee found that 13 percent of the adults surveyed aged 50 or older had lost all of their teeth, and almost 30 percent had experienced poverty as a child, had lost a parent or had divorced parents. She also found that 18 percent smoked as a child. Only half of the respondents had earned a high school diploma. Furthermore, some respondents with missing teeth reported experiencing child abuse.

But how does this translate to lost teeth? Lee seems to believe much of it is behavioral. For example, children who experience trauma are more likely to become stressed and/or depressed, which can have dangerous repercussions throughout their lives. Alcoholism, drug use and smoking are behaviors that may result from a traumatic past. Another theory? Dropping out of high school, as some respondents did, may keep respondents in low-paying jobs that do not elevate them out of poverty - or provide dental insurance.

Another problem caused by depression is overeating, which can cause not just poor food choices, but can also aid in the development of type 2 diabetes. This condition can often cause dry mouth, which leads to tooth loss.

So, what can be done to help prevent future generations from suffering the same fate? If your child is experiencing any of the traumas mentioned in this blog, speak to his or her pediatrician about beginning therapy. Helping kids (and adults!) process past traumas in a healthy way could save their teeth!

Schedule an appointment with Dr. Simpson today by calling 910-239-7164.

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