Ask the Dentist: Parental diet can affect how children's teeth and jaws form in womb

Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care, Belfast, says parents' diet even prior to conception can have a bearing on babies' teeth and jaw formation

A child’s jaw and first teeth start forming at about six weeks of pregnancy
Lucy Stock

CAN crowded, crooked teeth and narrow jaws be prevented by eating well?

Being pregnant can be such an exciting time, one where everyone is hoping that the baby will be healthy. But can we do more than hope and practically give our babies a better chance at being healthy?

A dentist called Dr Weston Price did research in the 1920s that looked at jaw development, tooth crowding and decay. His studies found that narrow jaws and tooth crowding are in fact not just genetic but, rather, caused by a lack of vital nutrients during the formative period of the body.

He discovered time and again that when a healthy population group started to eat a diet high in processed foods that there was a corresponding impact on their teeth. The next generation developed a more narrow face, with corresponding dental deformities or crooked teeth.

So what's happening to cause this change? We are all aware of how a mother's and father's genes are passed on to give certain qualities to the baby. However, genes are not concrete – they are flexible. The chemical soup in which they 'swim' alters how they are expressed and even whether they are expressed at all. What you eat, where you live, when you sleep, how you exercise – all of these can eventually cause chemical modifications around the genes that will turn those genes on or off over time.

A baby's gummy smile looks so cute and belies the business that is happening below. A child's jaw and first teeth actually start forming at about six weeks of pregnancy. So if you're pregnant, it's never too early to start thinking about how to make sure your child's teeth and jaws are as healthy as possible.

In fact all the science coming out is pointing to the benefits to the baby of getting healthy even before conception. This is called the 'preconception period', which refers to the three months leading up to conception. The preconception period is a critical time when both parents' health – including weight, metabolism, and diet – can influence the risk of future chronic disease in children.

For healthy teeth and jawbone development the mother's diet should have adequate amounts of calcium, phosphorus, vitamin C, vitamin K2 and vitamin D. In general avoiding a diet high in packaged, processed, highly refined foods and sticking to more natural foods will allow your body to pass on better nutrients to the baby and maximise the future health of their teeth and jawbones.

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