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Children’s Toothbrushing Frequency Influenced By Mother’s Depression: Japanese Researchers
Stressed Mother - Elevate Dental Hawthorn

It’s been long recognised that postpartum depression (PPD) can affect children’s emotional development and behaviours. Still, the etiology of maternal postpartum depression remains unconvincing, and most findings are to be cautiously interpreted. Evidence is sometimes inconsistent or insufficient in claims of an association between PPD and the developmental trajectories of the children in these studies.

Some findings require further analysis, while others focus on a specific population without broader parameters.

Despite this accepted information incongruity and relative interpretation of maternal depression, depressive episodes and depressive symptoms, Japanese researchers at Tohoku University carried out a PPD study on resultant bonding challenges, related not to general cognitive development and language, but to the frequency of actual or supervised teeth brushing in their pre-kindergarten children.

This particular study was borne from the detection of an alarmingly high rate of childhood dental caries throughout the country.

While there is no argument that PPD can hinder a mother’s ability to bond, it must be recognised that reduced bonding is not universal among women with postpartum depression.

Importantly too, women who are not depressed may also experience complications with bonding.

While it may be argued that a difficult bonding experience is one aspect of postpartum depression, studies suggest that maternal depression is not necessarily a precursor to bonding tensions.

New mothers without depression may experience early bonding issues that persist over the first year of their child’s life.

Childbirth and motherhood are less simple than they may seem, and the subsequent studies of both can sometimes be less complex than they should be in the definitive data endeavour.

Whether or not this elusiveness is sciences’ inadvertent and broader counterpart to Secret Women’s Business, it’s no secret that brushing twice a day is the foundation, and minimum requirement for having good oral health.

These habits start with the encouragement received as a child, and for which parents are unequivocally instrumental; and among Japanese 3-year-olds there is a predominance of primary teeth cavities.

If the inference is that this is a recent phenomenon, it’s not: in 1963, 77.2% of Japanese 3-year-olds had milk teeth caries. It took 52 years to reduce this to 17%. The worldwide average, according to Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care, is 12%.

It’s interesting that the Japanese diet, not usually considered high in sugar (the shortest road to Toothrot Town) proves no protector of the oral health of toddlers. Even the adoption of some unhealthy Western convenience foods and sugar-rich breakfast cereals can’t logically account for the discrepancy and the presumption then is that it is directly related to the time, interest and effort a Japanese mother invests in encouraging 2-to-3-year-olds to brush their teeth properly.


Every single day.

It’s easier to teach a chicken a musical instrument. Truly.

A day with a toddler is a month every week, regardless of whether they’re in day care for part of it or even all of it because of full-time work. They may have been in the care of someone else all day, and they make up for that when they get home.

A long day, low tolerance level, a bit of hunger and possibly some anxiety picked up from guilt-indulgent and exhausted working parents, does not make a conducive dynamic for patiently coaxing a recalcitrant toddler to brush their teeth for 2 minutes knowing you’re going to have to do the job anyway; all part of the thankless parenting service.

No doubt were there the means and anonymity, an avalanche of world-stressed Japanese parents of language-learning, demand-making, wilful and unstoppable 3-year-olds would confess to letting the kid fall asleep with a baby bottle of chocolate flavoured gyunyu just to get some peace.

You can’t get a kid to brush their teeth when they’re all floppy and dreaming about bananas.

It all opens an avenue of questioning the premise of the University Hospital’s recent study and therefore, the results can only be pragmatically accepted as inconclusive.

Particularly in light of the fact that a mother’s ability to bond is not directly related to postpartum depression.

Ergo, PPD cannot, in and of itself, have any effect or influence on the frequency of toddler teeth brushing. Concluding in a study that it’s the cause of this noticeable, and alarmingly poor oral health of very young Japanese children is misleading. Half a century ago, this country’s 3-year-olds were then deemed cavity-stricken so there’s opportunity to see if the data retrospectively relates.

Post natal Depression - Elevate Dental Hawthorn

Children’s Toothbrushing Frequency Influenced By Mother’s Depression: Why Japanese Researchers?

Were Japanese mothers of the 1960s undiagnosed PPD sufferers inadvertently neglecting their toddler’s teeth? If not, why not? There were virtually no Western diet influences then; so what could be the reason that almost 80% of children had tooth decay in teeth they’d only had for a maximum of 30 months?

The Asian population has the lowest bone density in the world. In the Japanese diet of white rice – high in starch, a main contributor to tooth decay – the intake of calcium is half that of a stronger-boned Westerner, whose diet is generally high in milk and dairy.

If bone density is a physiological genetic compromise, it therefore follows that teeth are equally subjected.

Science journalist Dr Michael Mosley proffers in the nature/nurture argument, and in rough interpretation, that it’s about 40/60. Without a diet high in calcium, phosphorous and vitamin D to counter and dissuade these inherent osseous vulnerabilities, it appears naïve to expect good oral health in Japanese children as the average.

Even from a university.

Quite simply, there seems to be enough evidence to suggest that a combination of genetics, environment and a generationally calcium-poor diet is the culprit of this national intensity of early childhood dental caries (ECC).

According to Tohoku University Hospital’s Dr Shinobu Tsuchiya, “A mother’s psychological well-being provides valuable screening information for identifying children at a high risk of ECC.”

Genetics, Dr Tsuchiya, and calcium and mineral well-being provide valuable screening information too, for identifying children at a high risk of ECC.

Seems the last person deserving blame is a stressed-out working mother.

Note: All content and media on the Elevate Dental website and social media channels are created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice.



Services we mentioned:

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