Circadian control of dental development in the womb
With ideas for correcting course in oral health in infancy and early childhood
Teeth are among the hardest and longest lasting parts of the body, yet paradoxically they are also among the most vulnerable parts of the body and can be among the first to show signs of ill-health.
Today’s post was inspired by a question from the community asking for ideas to support a baby through dental eruption and information about how the mother’s circadian rhythm impacts her baby’s dental development.
Brighter Days, Darker Nights is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
This is a great question, and points to the fact that EVERY system in the body is interconnected in feedback loops with the circadian rhythm.
Before birth and for the first 2-3 years of life, babies are dependent upon their mothers for circadian regulation because it takes that long for their own circadian rhythms to fully develop.
For today’s mothers, this creates a big responsibility, because circadian development affects not only health in the present, but also potentially programs health across the entire lifespan.
How the mother’s circadian rhythm affects development of her baby’s teeth while in the womb
Researchers have identified circadian genes in all the tissues that comprise the oral and maxillofacial region.1
Beginning in the earliest phases of pregnancy, these genes control development of teeth and the supporting tissues and set the stage for their structure and maintenance not only in infancy, but across the lifespan.
When the circadian rhythm of the mother is disrupted, the entire oral system is upset from the level of genes —> proteins and larger molecules —> tissues —> teeth and other bone and connective structures.
After birth, these patterns are likely to continue unless the family undergoes a radical transformation in lifestyle.
We can look at one circadian hormone in particular, melatonin, and see that changes in melatonin secretion across childhood and puberty also follow the changes in the dental system from early childhood, the emergence of the milk teeth, and the loss of the baby teeth and replacement of permanent teeth in puberty.2
Melatonin is present in saliva for a reason! And it’s not just so we can measure it in a lab.
Melatonin is involved in pain regulation, so disrupted melatonin also affects the perceived level of pain3 (in other words, the low melatonin associated with circadian disruption most likely increases the pain of teething in addition to disrupting the development of these structures physically).
Dental development is interconnected with all levels of health
This circadian control of the oral/dental system is also indicative of the future health of the digestive system, due in part to the circadian control of salivary secretions.4
The immediate challenges of a baby with teething troubles are worth paying attention to, because they may be an early sign of other health troubles down the line.
Truly, if you see that your child is having signs of disruption in their teeth and trouble with teething, it’s a great opportunity to correct course in a circadian sense.
Supplemental circadian strategies to support optimal dental development
The human circadian rhythm has 2 primary time givers
The warmth + light / coolness + dark cycle
The feeding / fasting cycle
After birth, the baby will shift from relying on the mother for these cues, to relying on the environment. This process occurs within the first 2-3 years of life, so do continue breastfeeding through those early years (whenever possible) for the positive effects of the circadian timing of hormones in breastmilk.
After baby begins eating, focus on high-nutrient foods and research the ill-effects of carbohydrates (especially after dark, due to circadian changes to digestive processes in the night compared with the day).
I’ve seen many people blaming nighttime nursing (which is physiological) on dental troubles. This ignores so many other factors, and unfairly places blame on nighttime breastmilk, which should be one of baby’s primary sources of melatonin which itself facilitates bone health.
The majority of dental tissues are actually made from types of collagen, so utilizing the time outdoors for circadian regulation is also an excellent opportunity to boost collagen production and health through infrared sunlight.
The circadian rhythm facilitates birth
Before birth however, circadian rhythms from the mother support the fetus through the placenta and ensure a smooth birth which is ideal for setting up a healthy start to the dental system. The skull bones in a baby are somewhat malleable in order to facilitate movement through the birth canal.
High circulating melatonin specifically helps facilitate a smooth birth due to the influence of melatonin on uterine muscle tissue and the mother’s perception of pain5. Thus, the mother’s stable and strong circadian rhythm is a powerful ally for her goal of having a quick and uncomplicated labor/delivery, which in turn helps the baby’s skull maintain a healthy shape.
A smooth birth followed by a postpartum where the baby is held in arms (rather than spending long periods of time laying down) is helpful for keeping the baby’s skull bones aligned symmetrically. This all may help prevent the teeth from emerging asymmetrically6. For babies who are showing signs of skull or facial asymmetry from birth or in the newborn phase, early intervention makes it more likely to be able to correct course towards symmetry7.
The good news here is that the circadian system, which supports all levels of health, as well as structural remodeling of bone and other tissues, is improvable even until old age.
Summary of circadian support strategies for dental development:
Cooler, darker nights in the bedroom
Warmer, brighter days with plenty of time Earthing outside
Daytime eating windows for mama
Try to have a good birth and postpartum
Seek cranial therapy consultation if you notice asymmetry in baby’s skull
Explore ketogenic diets supplemented with breastfeeding
Questions? Drop them in the subscriber chat!
Feng, G., Zhao, J., Peng, J., Luo, B., Zhang, J., Chen, L., & Xu, Z. (2022). Circadian clock-A promising scientific target in oral science. Frontiers in physiology, 13, 1031519. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2022.1031519
Liu, J., Huang, F., & He, H. W. (2013). Melatonin effects on hard tissues: bone and tooth. International journal of molecular sciences, 14(5), 10063–10074. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms140510063
Xie, S., Fan, W., He, H., & Huang, F. (2020). Role of Melatonin in the Regulation of Pain. Journal of pain research, 13, 331–343. https://doi.org/10.2147/JPR.S228577
Papagerakis, S., Zheng, L., Schnell, S., Sartor, M. A., Somers, E., Marder, W., McAlpin, B., Kim, D., McHugh, J., & Papagerakis, P. (2014). The circadian clock in oral health and diseases. Journal of dental research, 93(1), 27–35. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022034513505768
Reiter, R. J., Tan, D. X., Korkmaz, A., & Rosales-Corral, S. A. (2014). Melatonin and stable circadian rhythms optimize maternal, placental and fetal physiology. Human reproduction update, 20(2), 293–307. https://doi.org/10.1093/humupd/dmt054
Kluba, S., Roßkopf, F., Kraut, W., Peters, J. P., Calgeer, B., Reinert, S., & Krimmel, M. (2016). Malocclusion in the primary dentition in children with and without deformational plagiocephaly. Clinical oral investigations, 20(9), 2395–2401. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00784-016-1716-4