Indian Journal of Dental Research

: 2017  |  Volume : 28  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1-

Child oral health: An epidemiologist's perspective

Linda Slack-Smith 
 President ANZ Division International Association for Dental Research, School of Dentistry, M512, 17, Monash Avenue, Nedlands, WA 6009, Australia

Correspondence Address:
Linda Slack-Smith
President ANZ Division International Association for Dental Research, School of Dentistry, M512, 17, Monash Avenue, Nedlands, WA 6009

How to cite this article:
Slack-Smith L. Child oral health: An epidemiologist's perspective.Indian J Dent Res 2017;28:1-1

How to cite this URL:
Slack-Smith L. Child oral health: An epidemiologist's perspective. Indian J Dent Res [serial online] 2017 [cited 2023 Jan 28 ];28:1-1
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Poor oral health is a major cause of morbidity in children and can result in pain, poor eating, hospital admissions, general anesthetics, and significant expense.[1],[2] Dental caries is a major contributor to this poor oral health. Even today, dental caries remains the one of the most, if not the most common, health problems in children globally.[2] We found in Australia that only 40% of children under 5 years of age had ever seen a dental professional,[3] so how can dental professionals improve child oral health if they do not even see the children? Using record linkage of available administrative data (births, hospital admissions, intellectual disability, and birth defects) for the total population of western Australia, we investigated the characteristics of children having a hospital admission for a dental reason.[4] In this work, which we believe is some of the earliest use of a data linkage approach to investigate dental hospital admissions internationally, we found that children with intellectual disability or birth defect were much more likely to have a dental hospital admission as were children living in areas where the water supply was nonfluoridated.[4],[5] The advantage of total population data linkage is that those who are disadvantaged are included in the research without imposition on their time, yet they are the participants who are often lost to follow-up in studies with other designs.

Prof. Balaji has highlighted the burden of oral diseases previously in this journal.[6] Dental professionals play an extremely important role in child oral health but they are limited in supply, and children have to attend to benefit from their expertise. Parents play an important role in child oral health, but it is often the disadvantaged parents with many burdens who are most likely to have a child with poor oral health. Hence, blaming the parents does not resolve the underlying oral health problem.[7] We have to look at any options available as a society to improve oral health.

Potentially we can use dental epidemiology to better understand influences on child oral health and target care to those children most in need and hopefully apply some new prevention strategies. It is also very useful for monitoring outcomes such as the need to have dental work done under general anesthetic. This needs to be an international effort. Different countries bring different perspectives, different research strengths, and different data, so hopefully there are opportunities to help improve this significant health issue internationally.


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2Selwitz RH, Ismail AI, Pitts NB. Dental caries. Lancet 2007;369:51-9.
3Slack-Smith LM. Dental visits by Australian preschool children. J Paediatr Child Health 2003;39:442-5.
4Slack-Smith L, Colvin L, Leonard H, Kilpatrick N, Bower C, Brearley Messer L. Factors associated with dental admissions for children aged under 5 years in Western Australia. Arch Dis Child 2009;94:517-23.
5Slack-Smith L. How population-level data linkage might impact on dental research. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol 2012;40 Suppl 2:90-4.
6Balaji SM. Burden of oral diseases. Indian J Dent Res 2016;27:115.
7Watt RG. From victim blaming to upstream action: Tackling the social determinants of oral health inequalities. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol 2007;35:1-11.