Study finds link between poor diet in young children and tooth decay

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Young children of parents who cannot afford to put healthy food on the table are significantly more likely to suffer from tooth decay, according to the findings of a new study.

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The article published in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry, found that pre-school children with poor access to fruit, vegetables, fish and other healthy foods were up to three times more likely to have tooth decay by the age of six.

More than a third (35 per cent) of families admitted they had struggled to provide balanced meals for their children over the last year.

In total, the US-based study found that over half (56 per cent) of all families had cases of untreated tooth decay.

The study also found that families with lower incomes were more likely to purchase foods with added sugars, including sweets, biscuits and soft drinks. These children also consumed more bread and breakfast cereals.

Children brought up in younger-parent families or those with lower incomes had less well-balanced diets, according to the article.

Eighty‐two children, aged 12‐71 months old, from the Marquette University School of Dentistry Community South Clinic in Wisconsin and their caregivers participated in the study.

The Oral Health Foundation, a charity working to reduce inequalities in oral health, has called for greater recognition of the threat that food insecurities can cause.

dr-nigel-carterChief executive Dr Nigel Carter, said, ‘These findings confirm suspicions we have long held. Generally, through no fault of their own, too many parents are struggling to provide consistent levels of healthy, nutritious food for their children. Subsequently, this is having a profound effect upon the health of their teeth.

‘This study is also representative of a larger picture of poverty around the country. Throughout the UK, there are pockets of poverty where health and oral health are much poorer than neighbouring, more affluent areas. This is simply unacceptable. 

‘The number of children having five or more portions of fruit and vegetable a day is staggeringly low. The time has come for Government to step up and accept that the rising cost of healthy food is having a disastrous impact on our youngest people.’

According to Government health statistics, one in four children in England have tooth decay by the time they start school, while five-year-olds with tooth decay will have between three and four teeth affected.

Earlier this year, dentists accused the Government of having a ‘short-sighted’ approach to tooth decay after hospital operations to remove children's teeth increased to nearly 43,000, according to NHS figures.

Dr Carter added, ‘Income restricts a family’s ability to choose healthier alternatives.

‘Government and other public health bodies must unite in searching for effective policies to eliminate the link between income and poor nutrition. It is not enough to tax foods and drinks high in sugar. Healthy foods must also be accessible and affordable for everybody. 

‘It is also important that all families have the most basic provisions like toothbrushes and toothpaste, as well as improved access to NHS dental care.’

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