Dental caries, one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood, is a largely preventable disease, yet approximately 23% of U.S. children 2-5 years-of-age experience dental caries, and this number more than doubles to 56% among those aged 6-8. In the current environment of escalating healthcare costs and resource constraints, the large disparities in caries experience and access to care that exist in the U.S., especially among low socioeconomic status (SES) and minority population groups, call for a greater focus on targeted (at the patient and tooth surface level), risk-based caries preventive and therapeutic strategies to be delivered through interprofessional partnerships, including primary healthcare settings. Our team has just finished following 1,326 children from age 1 to age 4, and we have started data analyses to validate a caries risk questionnaire for use by medical providers to accurately identify high caries risk toddlers. The problem is that, while caries experience more than doubles from ages 2-5 to 6-8, caries in primary teeth during mixed dentition is a largely neglected area of research and prevention, there is no validated caries risk tool for medical settings to easily help triage 5- 8 year old children, and there have been almost no studies following the life-course progression of caries in children 1-8. This information is critically important, as designing and targeting efficacious and cost-effective preventive therapies that can adapt to changes in the life-course from toddlers to school-age children is dependent on accurate risk factor and tooth surface assessment. Thus, the objectives of this innovative continuation renewal study are: 1) to develop a practical and easily-scored caries risk tool for use in primary medical healthcare settings to identify high caries risk children, expanding from the toddler (1-4) to the school-age years (5-8); and 2) to determine the relationships between caries risk profiles and caries disease patterns (e.g., occlusal vs. proximal) in the mixed dentition. This will be accomplished by following a cohort of 876 primary caregiver (PCG)-child pairs from our ongoing U01's enrolled pairs. This cohort represents a diverse population, including ethnic/racial minorities and low SES groups. The PCG will complete a caries risk questionnaire and the child will have caries examinations at baseline (child's age 5.5 years old + 3 months), and again at 18 months (child's age 7 years + 3 months) and 36 months after baseline (child's age 8.5 years + 3 months) to monitor the caries disease process. Longitudinal caries risk data and caries disease prevalence/incidence and tooth surface pattern information collected from age 1-4 (ongoing U01) and 5-8 (proposed continuing renewal) will be used to assess risk of caries in children ages 5-8. A great strength of this proposal is that it involves four experienced medical and dental investigator groups, who have successfully worked together for the past 5.5 years and can facilitate follow-up of the study cohort. The significance is that identification of high caries risk children in primary healthcare settings will allow cost- effective preventive and/or referral strategies to be developed, targeted and used in interprofessional settings to prevent caries development from the toddler to the school-age years. This will have immediate broad impact and influence on existing and/or new policies and programs to be delivered by non-dental professionals in medical settings and other non- healthcare settings (e.g., school-based), as well as by dental professionals in dental healthcare settings.
The relevance of this collaborative, innovative and high impact project (continuing renewal of our ongoing caries risk study U01-DE021412-06) is that it will result in a valid, reliable, and practical (easy to score) caries risk assessment tool for the identification of high caries risk children, expanding from the toddler to the school-age years, in primary medical healthcare and other non-dental settings (e.g., could be used at the required physical before entering public schools, etc.). When information collected from age 5-8 is combined with data from our ongoing U01 grant (ages 1-4), it will enhance understanding of life-course caries risk changes and changing patterns of carious tooth surfaces (e.g., occlusal vs. proximal) in children from age 1-8, allowing for cost-effective preventive and/or referral strategies to be developed and targeted to prevent caries. This proposal is responsive to NIDCR's Strategic Plan Goal 2.2 [Engage primary care providers and health specialists toward individualized, evidence-based health assessment, disease prevention, and treatments] and Goal 3 [Apply rigorous, multidisciplinary research approaches to overcome disparities in dental, oral, and craniofacial health].
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