Objectives: To investigate the relationship between socioeconomic factors, behaviors and the severity of early childhood caries (ECC) in 6-19 month-old Thai children. The severity of ECC was estimated using the proportion of ECC teeth to erupted teeth. This was termed the 'Intensity of ECC' (I-ECC) index.
Methods: Cross-sectional questionnaire survey, dental examinations, and mutans streptococci counts were obtained from children and mothers/caregivers who participated in the ECC prevention program.
Results: The 520 children from rural areas were categorized into four age groups by the mean number of erupted teeth. In the 15-19-month-old children, the prevalence of ECC was 82.8% (cavitated caries, 40.8%; noncavitated caries, 42.0%) with a mean ECC teeth score of 4.18 +/- 3.19. The mean I-ECC severity score was 0.45 +/- 0.30 in these toddlers. Children from low-income families, those with low education, and mothers/caregivers with decayed teeth had higher I-ECC scores (P < 0.05). Children who were breast fed or had high counts of mutans streptococci also had higher I-ECC scores (P < 0.05). The logistic regression model revealed that only children's mutans streptococci level was a statistically significant predictor of ECC, with an odds ratio = 4.5 (95% CI = 1.8, 11.7).
Conclusions: ECC is not only a public health problem but also a social problem in Thailand, because it relates to family income and education level. The community development approach to assisting disadvantaged Thai children should be combined with an effective preventive program at a very young age. Future longitudinal research should be performed to improve the I-ECC for measuring the severity of ECC.