Dental health begins in the womb. Researchers have found that babies born to women who consume cheese and other dairy products during pregnancy are likely to have better dental health than babies born to non-dairy-consumers.

A new study published in the Nutrition Journal went beyond previous studies examining the importance of calcium in the development of a fetus. Researchers at the Fukuoka University, University of Tokyo and Osaka City University took their study one step further; they wanted to find the long-term effects of prenatal cheese and dairy consumption on an infant’s tooth development.

Researchers tracked 315 Japanese mother-and-child pairs, recording prenatal diets and dental examinations of children between 41 and 50 months of age.

The study, believed to be the first of its kind, found a strong connection between both cheese and total dairy consumption during pregnancy and decreased risk of childhood dental caries, such as tooth decay and cavities. The children of women who consumed more cheese during pregnancy had fewer dental problems than women who didn’t. Similar findings were uncovered for prenatal dairy consumption.

Researchers believed that the link between prenatal dairy consumption and dental health in children was related to calcium, which might influence tooth mineralization during fetal development, increasing acid-resistance in tooth enamel.

While cheese proved to be the best option for improved pediatric dental health, researchers had no immediate explanation for their finding.

“In the current study, the risk reduction associated with maternal intake of cheese during  pregnancy did not appear to be confounded by calcium intake,” researchers said in the report. “Thus, components of cheese other than calcium might be responsible for the protective effects of maternal cheese intake against dental caries in children.”

Read the study here.