Sept. 22, 2000 -- When Sara DeSanto's water broke at 36 weeks, her first question was why her labor began early. But the Minneapolis attorney's thoughts quickly turned to concern for her five-and-a-half pound daughter, Natalie, whose sudden birth meant she was now considered a premature baby.
"Of course, I worried about all sorts of horrible things ... did she get proper nutrition? Did she have a lack of oxygen? Then, when she was born, I was thinking, is everything properly developed?" says DeSanto.
As it turns out, her physicians have assured her that Natalie is the picture of good health, eating well and gaining weight. And now researchers reporting in the September issue of the Archives of Disease in Childhood have found that, chances are, her teeth -- both baby and permanent -- will most likely mature normally, despite her early birth.
The last trimester of pregnancy is an especially important period for the development of a child's teeth and bones, F. Sessions Cole, MD, professor of pediatrics and director of the Newborn Medicine Division at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, tells WebMD.
"In order to make teeth, and sustain teeth, you need calcium. In the last one-third of the pregnancy, the fetus gets two-thirds of the calcium he or she needs. That observation has created concern that babies born prematurely would be deprived ... and they may be deficient in calcium," which would weaken the bones and teeth, explains Cole, who was not involved in the study.
Researchers from Finland compared tooth development in 30 infants born prematurely with 60 infants born full term. They found no difference in how quickly baby -- or primary -- teeth came in among premature children compared to those who were born full term. There also was no significant difference in permanent teeth among the two groups of children, who were studied from birth, until they were preteens.
Although their main focus was teeth, the researchers also calculated the bone density of the groups of children and found no difference between the two. None of the children in the study had any major medical problems.
All of the children were given a vitamin D supplement, which Sessions says is also recommended for select groups of infants, regardless of whether they are bottle- or breast-fed. The researchers write, however, the early dietary vitamin D supplements did not affect tooth development. Sessions calls the findings "not particularly unexpected," but adds that they are useful in reassuring physicians and parents that the teeth of premature children usually develop normally.
"The majority of women [whose children] we follow, and we probably see 1,000 a year, have no problems with their teeth that would be directly attributable to their prematurity. I think it is nice to be able to document that," Sessions says.
James Koonce, DDS, MSD, director of dental services at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, tells WebMD other problems with teeth are common among children who have medical problems like cleft palate or who might need to be fed through a tube.