The SMILE study (Study of Mothers’ and Infants’ Life Event affecting oral health), spearheaded by the University of Adelaide, will investigate 1800 kids from birth until two to three years of age.
“We believe that oral health should not be looked at in isolation from other factors in children’s lives, and that a combined preventive approach, targeting both oral health and general health conditions, could yield significantly greater benefits for children,” explains study leader Associate Professor Loc Do, from the Australian research Centre for Population Oral Health at the University of Adelaide’s School of Dentistry.
In the last several years, there has been a push to understand why tooth decay still remains a prevalent issue in the oral health for kids in the U.S. – especially since the trend has worsened in the 2000s. From the early 1970s until the mid-1990s, tooth caries declined in the baby teeth of children ages 2 to 11. However, based on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2004, the trend reversed. Children with baby teeth showed a significant rise in decay. In short, cavities are on the up.
The trend can affect more than just a kid’s primary teeth. If baby teeth don’t fall out at the normal time and instead rot prematurely, then adult teeth don’t come in correctly. This means children can experience problems like abnormal (over or under) bites and crowded teeth, and will have to undergo cavity treatment in their permanent teeth.
Link to obesity
Experts believe the uptick of tooth decay is due to the increase in sugar in kids’ diets.
After all, diet is inextricably tied to both oral health and obesity. The sugary and fatty products we consume may lead to tooth caries as well as being overweight.
Parents are giving their children more bottled drinks instead of tap water that contains fluoride, and more processed snack foods than in the past.
“If you don’t have healthy teeth, your body’s not healthy,” says Dr. Mary Hayes, a Chicago pediatric dentist and spokesperson for the American Dental Association. “When you get started in a negative way, you’re vulnerable to loss of teeth, you’re vulnerable to infection.”
For the SMILE study, parents will participate in a questionnaire about a range of aspects of their child’s life, such as diet, food variety and fluid consumption. The overarching question: what is the main contributor to poor oral health in kids, and how can we change it?
As we have been made well aware, childhood obesity is rampant among America’s youth, affecting 17 percent of U.S. kids and teens.
Despite the fact the obesity rates seem to have reached a plateau for children, it is not something to take our eyes off of.
Attacking how we diet at a very early age may help steer us away from both problems.
Lower income health risks
Unfortunately, kids living in families with lower incomes are more prone to tooth caries and obesity.
Black children have an average of 43 percent prevalence rate of caries in baby teeth from youth 2 to 11 years-old, while Hispanic children top off at 55 percent. White children round out at 39 percent.
The obesity statistics follow suit. According to the Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System data taken in 2009, one in three low-income children is overweight or obese before their fifth birthday.
Associate Professor Loc Do stresses that the SMILE study could help combat differences in oral health problems within a range of socioeconomic groups.
“This could provide us with opportunities to develop more targeted strategies to improve the oral health of disadvantage young children,” he says.
Finding more accessible oral care including cavity treatment and changes in diets remain a top priority.