Study examines the influence of dietary free sugar intake on dental caries

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sugar intake in childhood
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A study investigating the relationship between free sugar intake in early childhood and dental caries at age four to six years was presented by Australian researchers at the recent 100th General Session and Exhibition of the IADR, held in conjunction with the 5th Meeting of the IADR Asia Pacific Region. 

The Interactive Talk presentation, ‘The Influence of Dietary Free Sugar Intake on Dental Caries’, took place on Thursday, 23 June during the ‘Behavioral and Social Risk Factors Associated with Early Childhood Caries’ session. The presenter was Stephanie Heitkonig of Royal Children’s Hospital, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Melbourne, Australia.

Free sugar consumption was measured in children enrolled in the Barwon Infant Study at age 18 months and four years. The exposure, free sugar intake, was quantified as continuous and binary variables indicating less than five per cent of total energy intake (TEI) at 18 months and four years of age. 

The prevalence of dental caries was obtained from dental records. Multiple logistic regression estimated the effect of the exposure variables on the presence of dental caries at 4-6 years of age, adjusting for potential confounders.

Of the original birth cohort, dietary data (N=863) and dental caries data (N=368) were available. 70.4 per cent and 36.7 per cent participants consumed less than five per cent TEI from free sugars at 18 months and four years, respectively. Dental caries affected 46.7 per cent of children. In fully adjusted models, free sugar at 18 months (OR 1.74; 95 per cent CI 1.06, 2.86 per five per cent of TEI) and at four years of age (OR 1.43; 95 per cent CI 0.90, 2.28, per five per cent of TEI) increased dental caries risk at 4-6 years. The estimated effect of consuming less than five per cent free sugars of TEI at 18 months and four years of age on dental caries prevalence at 4-6 years was an OR 0.71, 95 per cent CI 0.42, 1.19 and OR: 0.61; 95 per cent CI 0.38, 0.97 respectively. 

The estimated effect of lowering free sugars to less than five per cent of TEI at both timepoints compared to exceeding five per cent TEI at one or both timepoints, on dental caries risk at 4-6 years was an OR 0.55; 95 per cent CI 0.33, 0.93.

The authors concluded that between 18 months and four years, free sugar consumption increased markedly with two thirds of children exceeding five per cent of TEI at four years of age. Early free sugar intake increases the risk of dental caries at 4-6 years of age.

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