Objectives: The aim of this study was to use tooth eruption sequence, and a tooth- and surface-specific caries analysis method to determine: (1) the temporal relationship between tooth eruption and caries onset; (2) the validity of pre-existing concepts of caries progression; and (3) the relationship of certain putative health behaviors with caries prevalence.
Methods: A total of 2,428 Arizona children aged 6-36-months, who were recruited from WIC programs (a federal program for low-income children at nutritional risk), health fairs and private day care centers, received visual dental caries examinations. Additionally, an oral health behavior survey was administered to the parents of the 1,529 children recruited from the WIC programs.
Results: Dental caries was detected soon after tooth eruption, and by 34-36 months of age 25% of this population had caries. Maxillary anterior caries developed as early as 10-12 months of age. Fissure caries of the molars, either by itself or with maxillary anterior caries, was seen as early as 13-15 months of age. Posterior proximal caries was seen as early at 19-21 months, and only was present in conjunction with the other patterns. Over 40% of the 13-36-month-old children whose parents completed the survey still used a bottle. Night-time bottle use was associated with maxillary anterior caries in 24-36-month-old children, but no association was found in younger children or with posterior caries patterns. Survey responses also showed that fewer than 15% of these children reported having had a dental visit.
Conclusions: Dental caries was a significant health issue for these children under 3 years of age, and factors other than bottle feeding may play an important role in its etiology. Prevention of dental caries in children under age three will depend on a better understanding of the etiology as well as improved access to care.