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Does Weight Affect Kids' Dental Health?

Researchers Check for Links Between Overweight and Cavities
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 3, 2008 -- Two national surveys looking at how being overweight affects children's dental health seem to raise more questions than answers.

Researchers from the University of Rochester combed through results from two separate National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys which looked at a total of 17,748 children 2-18 years old.

One survey was done from 1988 to 1994, the other from 1999 to 2002. The first survey had 10,180 participants; the second survey had 7,568 participants.

When looking at the results, researchers were surprised to find that overweight children did not have more cavities than kids of normal weight; in the earlier survey, overweight children had slightly less chance of tooth decay compared to normal-weight children.

Here are the findings from the research:

2- to 5-year-olds:

  • No difference in tooth decay was found in the baby teeth among these children in all weight ranges.

6- to 11-year-olds:

  • Children in the earlier survey group who were considered overweight or at risk of being overweight were less likely to have cavities in their baby teeth when compared to their normal-weight peers. Overweight children were less likely to have cavities in their permanent teeth.
  • In the later survey group, there was no difference in likelihood of cavities in any weight range for primary or permanent teeth.

12- to 18-year-olds:

  • In the earlier survey, overweight children were less likely to have cavities in permanent teeth than normal-weight children.
  • In the later survey, there was no difference in the likelihood of having cavities among kids who were overweight, at risk for overweight, and normal weight.

Being poor and having a head of household with a low level of education were factors that contributed to having more tooth decay across all age groups and body weights.

"We expected to find more oral disease in overweight children of all ages, given their similar causal factors that are generally associated with obesity and caries (cavities)," researcher Dorota Kopycka-Kedzierawski says in a news release. 

So do overweight older kids have fewer cavities? Researchers aren't sure. They admit that their findings are "inconclusive."

Kopycka-Kedzierawski calls for more research, saying the findings "raise more questions than answers. Are overweight children eating foods higher in fat rather than cavity-causing sugars?"     

The study is published in the April issue of Community Dentistry & Oral Epidemiology.

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