"An investigation of the oral health of a selected group of preschool children in the Western Cape"
The dental clinic of the University of the Western Cape provides oral health care for many preschool children. The clinical observation was that these children presented with rampant dental caries. A recent report compi1ed by an international Joint Working Group of the Internationale Dental Federation and the World Health Organisation identified the changes in oral health in children and factors associated with these changes. South Africa presents a unique opportuni ty to study the oral health status of different ethnic and socio-economic groups. A review of the relevant literature indicated that there was a lack of published data, especially on the oral health status of preschool children. A study was designed to investigate the oral health status of a selected group of preschool children ages 2-6 years in the Western Cape. The examinations were conducted at twelve different créches by two calibrated examiners. The examinees' weight and height were also measured. The data was recorded on a revised World Health Organization Basic Oral Health Assessment form. A total of 547 children were examined with an almost equal distribution of males and females. Only 18% of the sample had a compl ete sound primary dentition, dmft = O. The mean dmft was 5.37 which ranged from 2.73 for the 2 year age group to 7.01 for the 5 year age group. The mean dt of 4.09 made up 76% of the dmft, the mean mt of 1.22 made up 23% and the ft was negligible. Seventy-eight percent of the sample had decayed teeth present and 28% had missing teeth recorded. The treatment chosen by or for these children appeared to be extractions. Observations of extensively decayed teeth and the high prevalence of dento-alveolar abscesses suggested that this treatment was of an emergency nature. There was much unmet treatment as only 22% of subjects were free of decay and those with decayed teeth present had an average of 5. The dmft distribution showed 48% had a dmft.)5. There was a statistically significant linear association between the dmf and age for all the tooth types except the cani nes. There was no significant difference in caries prevalence between males and females. The phenomenon of bilateral symmetrical occurrence of dental caries in the primary dentition was demonstrated in the present study. The maxillary central incisors were the most frequently affected teeth (55%), followed by the mandibular second molars (47%) and maxillary second molars (42%). This is contrary to the findings in European communities where the primary second molars are the most susceptible tooth types. The present study found the fifth year of 1ife to be the critical one for the primary dentition. It was at this age that the greatest increment in dmft was observed, the greatest decrease in the number of caries-free subjects, more than a twofold increase in rampant caries, and a twofold increase in the number of subjects with dento-a1veo1ar abscesses. Few hard tissue anomalies were recorded. Localized enamel hypoplasia was quite common especially of the upper incisors and second molars. Most children claimed their teeth were brushed at least once a day. But soft deposits were present in almost all age groups in all the segments. Sixty percent of the sample had the sole responsibility of brushing their own teeth with no assistance from their parents. Parental assistance with toothbrushing was limited to the younger age group. In the present study soft deposits and gingivitis were recorded mostly on the buccal of the upper posterior segments and on the lingual of the lower posterior segments. The anterior segmentshad less plaque than the posterior segments. Thi s may be due to children finding it easier to brush anteriorly than posteriorly when they do brush. Also, the other areas are less accessible and require greater manipulative skill. There was a weak correlation between the total soft deposits and total gingivits. Although 60% of the sample had six segments of soft deposits present, only 4% had )six segments of gingivitis present. However, it was found that the higher the number of segments of soft deposits present, the greater the tendency for the presence of gingivitis. The association between dmft and soft deposits was not significant but between dmft and gingivitis was significant. This may be more preci se as these two are both cumulative measures. Soft tissue lesions were generally uncommon in this age group. The children in this community were generally lighter in weight and shorter in height compared to the NCHS (1979) percentiles. Recommendations regarding ways of redressing the obviously inadequate general and oral health of this sample of children were made.