Bigger, Badder Tooth From Poverty

Oral care declines and obesity worsens as kids in poverty get older

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Keeping your teeth healthy is hard to do, especially when poverty is a factor. And for kids growing up in hard economic times, keeping the entire body healthy is a real challenge.

Obesity and the number of dental caries, which includes cavities and tooth decay, goes up as children under the poverty line get older, a new study has found.

"Although a deļ¬nitive conclusion between obesity and dental caries cannot be drawn, these two health issues are important areas for all pediatric healthcare providers to address," researchers said.

"Rinse with a fluoride mouthwash daily."

The study, led by Sheau-Huey Chiu, PhD, RN, assistant professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, included 157 children from a homeless shelter between 2 and 17 years old. Almost 70 percent of the participants were African American and more than half were girls, representing the population of the homeless population in a Midwestern urban city.

Their body mass index, which calculates height and weight together, were measured. Researchers also counted the number of teeth missing, injured, or filled in each child. About 20 percent were overweight and another 31 percent obese. In addition, a little more than half of the children had some kind of tooth decay.

Researchers also found that as each child aged, their BMI and the number of dental caries they had also increased.

Kids' BMI ranked along the 74th percentile between 2 and 6 years of age on average. That increased to the 77th and 83rd percentile for kids from 6 to 12 years old, and 12 to 17 years old.

A growing BMI was also linked to an increase in cavities and tooth decay as well. Kids in the first age group had about two cavities, then a little more than four in the second age grouping. By the time they reached the final age group, they had almost six cavities.

Marguerite DiMarco, PhD, RN, co-author and associate professor in the nursing school at Case Western Reserve University, says that poverty makes it more difficult to access and preserve nutritious food. Running water can be limited in some homes and dental care access can be difficult to attain without enough finances or transportation.

"Many people do not realize that dental caries is an infectious disease that can be transmitted from the primary caregiver and siblings to other children," Dr. DiMarco said in a press release.

Researchers say that sharing toothbrushes, used spoons or baby bottles can spread oral infections and gum disease. Using a fluoride wash, which is inexpensive and easy to use, can help them.

Future research should see how much obesity and tooth decay are linked among the homeless population. The authors, who did not have any conflicts of interest to report, did not look at other ways that might cause increases in tooth decay and obesity in their study. The study is to be published in the Journal of Pediatric Health Care.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 21, 2012
Last Updated:
March 26, 2013