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Early Childhood Dental Caries, Mouth Pain, and Malnutrition in the Ecuadorian Amazon Region


Malnutrition and dental caries in early childhood remain persistent and intertwined global health challenges, particularly for indigenous and geographically-remote populations. To examine the prevalence and associations between early childhood dental caries, parent-reported mouth pain and malnutrition in the Amazonian region of Ecuador, we conducted a cross-sectional study of the oral health and nutrition status of 1407 children from birth through age 6 in the "Alli Kiru" program (2011-2013). We used multivariate regression analysis to examine relationships between severe caries, parent-reported mouth pain measures, and nutritional status. The prevalence of dental caries was 65.4%, with 44.7% of children having deep or severe caries, and 33.8% reporting mouth pain. The number of decayed, missing and filled teeth (dmft) increased dramatically with age. Malnutrition was prevalent, with 35.9% of children stunted, 1.1% wasted, 7.4% underweight, and 6.8% overweight. As mouth pain increased in frequency, odds for severe caries increased. For each unit increase in mouth pain frequency interfering with sleeping, children had increased odds for being underweight (Adjusted Odds Ratio (AOR): 1.27; 95% CI: 1.02-1.54) and decreased odds for being overweight (AOR: 0.76; 95% CI: 0.58-0.97). This relationship was most pronounced among 3-6 year-olds. Early childhood caries, mouth pain and malnutrition were prevalent in this sample of young children. Parent-reported mouth pain was associated with severe caries, and mouth pain interfering with sleeping was predictive of poor nutritional status. We demonstrate the utility of a parsimonious parent-reported measure of mouth pain to predict young children's risk for severe early childhood caries and malnutrition, which has implications for community health interventions.

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