Medicine & Pharmacology, Dentistry; early childhood caries; mouth pain; malnutrition; ecuador; community-based intervention
Malnutrition and dental caries in early childhood remain persistent and intertwined global health challenges, particularly for indigenous and geographically-remote populations. To examine the prevalence and associations between early childhood dental caries, parent-reported mouth pain and malnutrition in the Amazonian region of Ecuador, we conducted a cross-sectional study of the oral health and nutrition status of 1,407 children from birth through age 6 in the “Alli Kiru” program (2011-2013). We used multivariate regression analysis to examine relationships between severe caries, parent-reported mouth pain measures, and nutritional status. The prevalence of dental caries was 65.4%, with 44.7% of children having deep or severe caries, and 33.8% reporting mouth pain. The number of decayed, missing and filled teeth dmft) increased dramatically with age. Malnutrition was prevalent, with 35.9% of children stunted, 1.1% wasted, 7.4% underweight, and 6.8% overweight. As mouth pain increased in frequency, odds for severe caries increased. For each unit increase in mouth pain frequency interfering with sleeping, children had increased odds for underweight (AOR: 1.27; 95% CI: 1.02 – 1.54) and decreased odds for overweight (AOR: 0.76; 95% CI: 0.58 – 0.97). This relationship was most pronounced among 3-6 year-olds. Early childhood caries, mouth pain and malnutrition were prevalent in this sample of young children. Parent-reported mouth pain was associated with severe caries, and mouth pain interfering with sleeping was predictive of poor nutritional status. We demonstrate the utility of a parsimonious parent-reported measure of mouth pain to predict young children’s risk for severe early childhood caries and malnutrition, which has implications for community health interventions.