Australian study seeks link between childhood dental problems and food choices

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 24th April 2012

Poor dental health may influence children to eat unhealthy food, placing them at higher risk of obesity and chronic disease in later life, according to researchers at the University of Queensland.

The University of Queensland Children’s Nutrition Research Centre and School of Dentistry are conducting a study that aims to determine if children may be modifying their diets to accommodate dental problems, particularly children born pre-term.

Study leader Sarah Officer said a recent study on oral health in Australia showed that 17 per cent of adults avoid eating certain foods because of dental problems.

Ms Officer said, “The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report on oral health and dental care suggests that dental problems do affect diet. However, this question has never been addressed in studies of children born pre-term, and not in conjunction with another measure of chronic disease risk such as body composition.

“We are keen to find out if children with dental problems such as decay and teeth misalignment are choosing foods that are easier to chew, how this modified diet is affecting their body composition, and whether these dietary choices raise their risk of chronic disease.”

According to Ms Officer, easy-to-chew foods tend to be highly processed. By contrast, healthier choices such as fresh fruit, grains, lean meat, and vegetables are much harder for children with dental problems to manage.

Ms Officer said, “If the study demonstrates that dental problems do lead to poor diet and high body fat in children, this could lead to the development of health screening and prevention programs to protect those children at highest risk.”

The study has particular relevance for children born pre-term, as research shows they are more likely to experience feeding and dental problems than children born at full term, Ms Officer said.

Previous research has suggested that pre-term children are at higher risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in later life.