Teeth riddled with cavities could point to other health problems. Among children ages 2 to 5, poor nutrition may be a common thread connecting obesity and tooth decay, a new study finds.
Dental decay in young kids could point to bad nutrition and a higher BMI.
Dental decay in young kids could point to bad nutrition and a higher BMI. iStockphoto.com
Researchers found that 28 percent of young children who required anesthesia to treat their cavities — either because of the seriousness of the decay or their lack of cooperation — had a BMI indicating they were overweight or obese.
For comparison, data gathered from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey a few years back suggests that 21 percent of children from the same age group are overweight or obese.
In the study, presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, 65 children fasted for 8 to 12 hours before their procedures. While the children were getting their teeth fixed, their parents filled out questionnaires about the kids' eating habits. The work hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Dr. Kathleen Bethin, a pediatrician at the University of Buffalo who was the lead author of the study, says previous research clashed about a possible association. But she says what makes her research unique was that it looks at kids who were treated in the operating room — as opposed to outpatient dental clinics.
"I think that our data more strongly suggests that there may be an association — that kids with worse dental decay may have bad nutrition and may be fatter," Bethin tells Shots.
These findings, Bethin says, indicate the dentist's office is a good place to talk about nutrition and obesity risk.
One finding that surprised Bethin: There was no difference in total calories consumed by overweight and healthy-weight kids in her study. That's despite the fact that 71 percent of kids in the study consumed more calories than normal for their age group.
"I had predicted that the overweight kids would have higher calories," she says. She adds it could be that overweight kids are exercising less or have higher-fat diets. She also said parents of overweight children might think their kids are eating less than they are.
Bethin says the study underscores the importance of teaching young children healthy eating habits — for their teeth and their waistlines.