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  • Self-study: Nutrition and Oral Health for Children
  • Self-study: Nutrition for Children with Special Health Care Needs
  • Group study: Nutrition for Children with Special Health Care Needs
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Nutrition and Oral Health for Children


Why Nutrition and Oral Health?
Self-study Curriculum

Why nutrition and oral health?

Oral health is a broad concept encompassing dental health, oral-motor function, and craniofacial structure. These factors influence (and are influenced by) nutrition, speech and communication, self-image, and well-being. Individual health needs can best be met by integrating oral health into comprehensive care. This integration necessitates that all health providers who work with families have valid, current information to share.

A new awareness of the importance of children's dental health to their overall well-being has emerged. Yet despite significant improvements in prevention and treatment, dental caries remains a common and serious concern with long-term health and developmental consequences for many children and families (Kagan, 1999).

Dental caries has been called the most prevalent disease process in children. It is estimated that by 1 year of age, 15% of children will have dental caries (Nowak, 2000). More than 52% of children are at risk for untreated oral disease. Prevalent in this "at risk" group are children from poor or minority families, children without health insurance, and children with special health care needs (Mouradian, 2001).

Children with special health care needs are at greater risk for oral health problems than children without special health care needs. Some of the contributors to poor oral health that are common among children with special health care needs are listed below (Faine, 2001):

  • Prolonged use of nursing bottle
  • Low fluid intake
  • Gastroesophogeal reflux
  • Gagging, vomiting, rumination
  • Oral hypersensitivity
  • Low energy intake
  • Extended eating time
  • Disruptive behavior at mealtime
  • Refusal to consume specific foods or groups of foods

Early childhood caries (ECC) occurs in 10% of 2 year old children. The prevalence of ECC in children with special health care needs is not documented. Because the nursing bottle is often used for an extended period of time, ECC rates may be high. A high level of caries in the primary teeth increases the risk that a child will have caries in the permanent teeth (Kaste, 1992).

Prevention of dental caries is critical, and multidisciplinary involvement is important (Glassy 2001). Preventive treatment includes care provided by dental professionals as well as education about healthy practices by all health care providers (Nowak, 2000, Glassy 2001, Williams 2001). Opportunities for prevention arise when all providers are aware of and are providing screening for oral health needs.


Faine M. Nutrition issues and oral health. In: Proceedings from Promoting Oral Health of Children with Neurodevelopmental Disabilities and Other Special Health Care Needs. May 4-5, 2001; Center on Human Development and Disability, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.

Glassy D. Provider involvement is crucial. Northwest Bulletin, Family and Child Health. Vol. 15 No. 1 University of Washington, 2001.

Kagan J. Putting teeth in children's oral health policy and programs: the state of children's oral health and the role of state Title V programs. Issue Brief. [A publication of the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs (AMCHP)]. December, 1999.

Kaste LM, Marianos D, Chong R, Phipps KR. The assessment of nursing caries and its relationship to high caries in the permanent dentition. J Public Health Dent. 1992; 52:64-68.

Mouradian WE, The face of a child: children's oral health and dental education. J Dent Educ. 2001; 65(9): 821-831.

Nowak A. Oral health, a family affair. PediatricBasics. No. 91, 2000.

Williams B. Collaboration is essential. Northwest Bulletin, Family and Child Health. Vol. 15 No. 1 University of Washington. 2001.


date last modified September 3, 2005