5 May 2015

Negative experiences in childhood have been labelled a ‘toxic stress' on dental health, according to a new report.

Research published in the journal of Community Dentistry Oral and Epidemiology has provided strong evidence for reinforcing claims that socioeconomic factors have a divisive role to play in the health of children.1

Children exposed to adverse experiences were more than twice as likely to develop tooth decay and gum disease and suffer from conditions such as unfilled cavities, missing teeth and toothache, all of which can have serious implications for overall health.

Some of the experiences measured by researchers included the child being subject to a parental divorce, a parent spending time in jail, household income and education of the parent. Exposure to domestic violence, witness to drug and alcohol abuse and living with someone who suffers from mental illness, suicidal tendencies or depression, was also evaluated in relation to dental health.

Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE, says the effects of such childhood experiences should remain in the foreground of dental professionals, public health advocates and the government's social support networks.

A newborn baby"A positive home environment is crucial for a child's development in many aspects of their life, including their dental health. It is vital that we continue to offer support for families, individual parents and the children themselves, to ensure their upbringing is as comfortable and stress free as possible.

"It is important that screening for adverse childhood experiences in dental visits continues to be improved so future research can focus on refining intervention plans and minimising dental health disparities."

In primary schools across the United Kingdom, around eight or nine children in every class will have already developed tooth decay - that's approaching a quarter of a million children in each primary school year and around 3.3 million young people aged 0-14 years.

A recent study by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, looking into the dental health of children in the UK, has also revealed around one in four children are starting school with visible signs of tooth decay.2

"Whether it's their first tooth or their first visit to the dentist, a child's early experiences of oral health can impact on the rest of their lives. That's why it's so important to teach them about their mouths and introduce them to good habits as soon as possible," Dr Carter adds.

"In addition to offering support to families, it is important that we work with nurseries and schools too. We all need to be more aware of how we can help to reduce the chances of a child developing poor oral health.

"The most important message to remember is it is not the amount of sugar children eat or drink that causes tooth decay, but how often they have sugary foods and drinks. Sugar causes the bacteria in plaque to produce acids. It is these acids which attack children's tooth enamel and cause tooth decay."

The British Dental Health Foundation emphasises that by the age of two and a half years, children should be having regular dental check-ups. Any budding oral health problems can be spotted early. It's crucial for their development and they will be more likely to take the good traits right the way through adulthood.


1. BRIGHT MA et al (2015) ‘Adverse childhood experiences and dental health in children and adolescents', Community Dentistry Oral and Epidemiology, 2015; 43; 193-199

2. HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE INFORMATION CENTRE (2013) ‘Child Dental Health Survey 2013, England, Wales and Northern Ireland'