A study conducted by Al Wakra Hospital’s Prosthodontics Consultant, Dr Mohamed Sultan Al Darwish, has found that dental caries (tooth decay or cavity) is the leading oral health issue affecting children in Qatar.
Dr Al Darwish, who received a PhD from the University of Gloucestershire in the UK for his research, enlisted the help of four dentists and six trained data entry dental assistants to support him on this project. The results of the study have been published in a number of international journals.
A total of 2,113 students in 12 government and four private schools, divided equally between boys’ and girls’ schools, were surveyed, finding that about 85% of students had some form of tooth decay.
Dental caries (DC) is a multi-factorial infectious disease caused by plaque bacteria, which then diffuse into hard dental tissues, dissolving their mineral contents, according to Dr Al Darwish. Adding that tooth decay is commonly measured by a value, which is the sum of the number of decayed, missing and filled teeth (DMFT Index), Dr Al Darwish said:
The three essential factors for dental caries are dental plaque, which can contain harmful bacteria, carbohydrates in the diet, and susceptible teeth.’
‘The prevalence of dental caries among school children in Qatar is 85%. The mean value of DMFT is 4.6, 4.8, and 5.5 for 12, 13 and 14-year-old children respectively. These values are well above the recommended levels of the World Health Organization (WHO), which suggests no more than a DMFT of 3 at the age of 12 years.’
‘The DMFT level is widely used for assessing the oral health status of populations for public health planning and policy-making purposes…the findings of the study suggest that awareness on the importance of oral health needs to be enhanced among schoolchildren in Qatar.’
He said that over 44% of children in Qatar had instances of teeth crowding and 9.5% had spacing issues, which means over half of schoolchildren in Qatar need orthodontic therapy.
According to Dr Al Darwish, the study investigated the associations of oral health knowledge, teeth irregularity and lifestyle variables (TV viewing, internet use, passive smoking and dietary habits) with dental caries among 12-14-year-old school children in Qatar. He said:
Almost half of the children surveyed (50%) spend two hours watching television and 46% spend more than two hours using the internet daily. Most recent research recommend that the time children spend watching TV and using the internet should not exceed more than two hours.’
Results from the survey also found that:
- Approximately 36% of children are exposed to passive smoking
- Some 99.5% consume sugar in snacks such as candy, soft drinks, chocolate, jelly, ice cream, and cookies in-between meals
- Approximately 65% of the children consume sugary snacks (candy, soft drinks, chocolate, jelly, ice cream, cookies) within one hour of bed time
- 49% of children skip breakfast regularly
- Girls were more at risk of developing tooth decay than boys
- Children registered in private schools have better oral health than children registered in independent governmental schools
- The occurrence of tooth decay correlates with the level of oral health knowledge, including teeth irregularities and lifestyle variables (e.g. TV viewing, internet use, passive smoking, and dietary habits)
- Children consuming dairy products in-between meals were at significantly less risk to tooth decay
- Children consuming tea in-between meals were at significantly less risk of tooth decay
- Children chewing gum in-between meals were at significantly less risk of tooth decay
- Children eating main meals (breakfast and lunch) regularly were at significantly less risk of tooth decay
It is expected that the findings of the study will contribute to the world database of oral health and diseases maintained by the WHO. The organisation is currently making a comparison between the findings of the study in Qatar with similar findings in the Eastern Mediterranean region and other regions in the world.
However, the study recommends that the optimal way to raise children’s oral and general health awareness would be through educating parents and school teachers with accurate information.
‘Parents and school teachers should be invited regularly for presentations on oral and general health,’ Dr Al Darwish said while recommending the need to support school-based oral health programmes by recruiting oral hygienists on a full-time basis to visit the schools, screen the children, refer to a dental clinic if necessary, and also initiate appropriate oral hygiene and dental educational activities.