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Bad Teeth? Don't Blame Your Childhood

Unhealthy adult lifestyle more likely to cause damage

THURSDAY, June 24, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- An unhealthy adult lifestyle, and not poor childhood dental habits, is largely responsible for bad teeth in adults, British researchers say.

"Even if people aren't used to following a tooth care regime, it's never too late for them to start," lead researcher Dr. Mark Pearce of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne said in a prepared statement.

The study of 337 people, appearing in the June 24 issue of the Journal of Dental Research, found that smokers and those from deprived social circumstances were more likely to suffer tooth loss.

The more cigarettes a person smoked, the more teeth he or she was likely to lose. Smoking restricts blood flow in the gums, leading to gum disease and tooth loss.

Poor social circumstances are associated with poor oral hygiene habits, such as infrequent toothbrushing and irregular visits to the dentist.

The study also found that the link between a person's childhood dental habits and problems with teeth and gums diminished as a person aged; eventually, they became almost insignificant as a factor.

Study co-author Jimmy Steel, of Newcastle University's School of Dental Sciences, said young adulthood is often the worst period of life in terms of dental care.

"Even people who look after their teeth when they are children may slip into bad habits when they leave home and indulge in an unhealthy lifestyle as young adults," he said. "It's common for chocolate bars to be substituted for meals, or for regular teeth-brushing to stop. In fact, studies show that men aged 20-30 are the worst at looking after their oral health."

The results suggest that public health efforts to improve oral health should target adults as well as children, the researchers concluded.

"They can't turn the clock back," Pearce said, "but they can increase their chances of maintaining a good set of teeth into their old age, something which is very significant when you consider life expectancy is increasing all the time."

More information

The American Dental Association has more about cleaning your teeth and gums.

SOURCE: University of Newcastle upon Tyne, news release, June 23, 2004
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