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Tooth decay may stunt child’s growth

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Sadly, dental caries (cavities) in young children is commonly untreated. In addition to causing damage and loss of teeth, a new study has found that it can stunt a child’s growth. The study was published online on February 17 in the journal Pediatrics by researchers at King Fahad Armed Forces Hospital (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia) and University College London (London, United Kingdom).

The researchers note that dental caries in young children represents a significant public health problem. Dental caries in children is reported to affect their anthropometric outcomes (growth); however, the available evidence. Some studies reported a lack of association; however, others reported that dental caries were associated with underweight or overweight. Therefore, the objective of their study was to evaluate the relationship between dental caries status and height and weight in six- to eight-year-old Saudi children with high caries prevalence.

The study group comprised schoolchildren aged six to eight years who attended military primary schools in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Their caries status was evaluated with the DMFT (decayed, missing, filled, teeth) index for their primary teeth. Height and weight were evaluated with using z scores of height-for-age (HAZ), weight-for-age (WAZ), and BMI-for-age (BAZ) calculated by World Health Organization (WHO) standardized procedures. (A z score measures the reliability of data.) The relationships between dental caries and HAZ, WAZ, and BAZ were subjected to statistical analysis.

Included in the final evaluation were 417 of the 436 eligible schoolchildren with complete data were included, marking a response rate of 95.6%. Their average DMFT index was 5.7 ± 4.2. The investigators found an inverse linear relationship between caries status and children’s HAZ, WAZ, and BAZ and significantly lower anthropometric outcomes for children at each consecutive group with higher levels of caries. (An inverse linear relationship means that the higher the caries status, the lower the z scores were in a straight line relationship.) They noted that the associations remained significant after adjusting for dental, social, and demographic variables.

The authors concluded that the inverse linear association between dental caries and all anthropometric outcomes suggests that higher levels of untreated dental caries are associated with poorer growth in children.