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26 Oct 2011 | Press Release

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Tiny teeth in tatters

Research Children's Dentistry Government policies and funding Grants

The tiny teeth of Australian toddlers are rotting and dental researchers at the University of Sydney are poised to start a long-term study to find out why.

The study Infant Feeding including Breastfeeding, and Early Childhood Food and Beverage Intake: Relationships with Early Childhood Caries and Obesity received funding in the latest rounds of National Health and Medical Research Council grants.

Led by Doctor Amit Arora from the University of Sydney's Faculty of Dentistry, the two year study, which commences next year, will investigate the relationship between breastfeeding, bottle feeding, food and beverage intake, dental health and obesity in young children.

Doctor Arora, a lecturer in Oral Health says dental decay and obesity in early childhood continues to be a significant health concern in Australian children.

"The Child Dental Health Survey of Australia reported that 45 percent of 5-year-olds had one or more decayed or missing teeth and 10 percent of those children examined were found to have more than seven decayed teeth. Also 40 percent of the 5-6-year-olds who participated in the survey had up to 5 missing or decayed teeth," states Dr Arora.

Data from the Centre for Oral Health Strategy indicates that despite water fluoridation, dental caries remain a major public health problem particularly in disadvantaged areas.

"This is a huge burden of disease, when one considers there are only 20 baby teeth in the whole mouth of a child," states Dr Arora.

"From previous research we have unfortunately found that the incidence of decay in small children is disproportionately higher in children from lower socio-economic groups," says Dr Arora.

"This can have an overwhelming impact on the children and their families in terms of its effect on their growth, development, nutrition, ability to socialise and function well at school."

Previous research has suggested there maybe an association between dental caries and obesity in early childhood as they share common risk factors, mainly diet. But only few longitudinal research studies into the common origins of dental caries and obesity have been conducted.

Dr Arora says the project will start at the infant phase and will research a child's diet and dental hygiene through to the age of three.

While it is widely recognised that breastfeeding provides terrific nutrition for babies and has been generally considered to be protective against obesity, on demand breastfeeding has been associated with poorer oral health outcomes.

"We are aiming to provide evidence of the relationships between feeding, oral hygiene practices and physical activity for children aged between 0 and 36 months," says Dr Arora.

One of the first of its kind the results from the cohort study will be provide longitudinal evidence in Australian children and the association between breastfeeding and oral health and between obesity and dental caries.

This is a joint venture between Universities of Sydney, Adelaide, Flinders in Australia and Oregon Health and Science University in United States; Sydney South West Local Health Network; NSW Health; Australian Lactation Consultants Association and a major research institution in the United States.

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