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To Help Kids Avoid Cavities? Dial Down Your Stress, Mom

While it's common knowledge that stress is unhealthy, a new study finds a surprising link between moms' stress and kids' dental health.

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Being a parent is inherently stressful. Fulfilling, yes, but also stressful. We are responsible for little human beings who can't take care of themselves—how could it not be? Plus, sometimes they throw things and scream that ear-piercing sound that makes you want to deaden your ear drums with an ice pick. If that doesn't trigger the release of your stress hormones, you must be some kind of super enlightened zen Buddhist.

For the rest of us, it's pretty common knowledge that the strain of parenthood can take a toll on our health unless we take time to de-stress, chill out, and generally recharge. It's better for our kids, too, because dealing with stressed-out moms and dads isn't good for kids' heath, either. And, a new study reveals a surprising find: Dental cavities are more common among kids whose mothers suffer from chronic stress. (Oh joy, another thing to stress about!)

Researchers at the Dental Institute at King's College London examined information from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988-1994) on 716 U.S. mothers and their children (ages 2 to 6). They found that dental cavities were more common among kids whose mothers had two or more biological markers of chronic stress, such as high levels of blood fats, blood sugar, and blood pressure. A mother's chronic stress was also associated with lower incidence of breastfeeding and fewer dental visits for their children, the researchers found.

The researchers cautioned, however, that the study didn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship between a mom's stress and a child's inadequate dental care. The study also found that cavities were more common among children who weren't breastfed as babies, and that mothers with lower incomes were significantly less likely to breastfeed or to have taken their child to the dentist in the prior year. Mothers with lower income were also less likely to feed their child breakfast than higher-income counterparts.

The takeaway? Taking care of ourselves as parents is an important part of taking good care of our kids. So the next time you need some "me time" and head out for a mani/pedi, don't feel guilty. You're doing it to prevent your kid from getting cavities!

Ellen Sturm Niz is a New York City-based editor and writer who really never needs an excuse to get a mani/pedi. Check out Ellen's new Etsy shop and follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

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