Dental caries, body mass index, and diet among learners at selected primary schools in Pretoria, Gauteng Province, South Africa

21 May 2020

Aim: To assess whether the prevalence of dental caries (DC) was associated with the body mass index (BMI), socioeconomic status (SES), and diet of grade six learners in Pretoria, South Africa (SA). Materials and methods: A cross-sectional study was carried out. Learners underwent an oral and anthropometric examination, while the information on dietary intake and SES were collected using a standardized questionnaire. Results: Of a possible 529 learners, 440 (83%) participated of whom 53% were boys. The mean age was 11.8 years, and 50% fell into the “medium” SES category. The prevalence of DC was 43%. The mean decayed, missing and filled teeth (DMFT) score was 1.19 (SD = ±1.79), of which the decayed (D) component was the largest 1.07 (SD = ±1.59). Two-thirds (62%) of learners had a normal BMI, and 26% were underweight. Less than half (47%) reported brushing their teeth twice a day; 71% claimed to drink up to one and a half glasses of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), and 67% reported eating one to three sweets a day. The prevalence of DC was not significantly associated with BMI, diet, or SES, although having no caries was associated with eating less than three sweets a day. Conclusion: The mean DMFT score was relatively low with much of the decayed teeth being untreated. Most learners were classified having a normal BMI, despite having bad eating habits. Oral health in this group of learners may be more influenced by healthcare-seeking behavior and access to healthcare services than by diet alone. Clinical significance: The decayed component was fairly high, which means that there is a huge need for dental treatment, and although prevention and oral health promotion is important, learners with decayed teeth should have access to curative services.