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J Am Dent Assoc. 2012 Jul;143(7):756-63.

Early childhood caries screening tools: a comparison of four approaches.

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Division of Pediatric Dentistry, Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, New York City, NY 10032, USA.



Early childhood caries (ECC) is prevalent and consequential. Risk assessment tools have been proposed that can be used to identify children who require intensive interventions. In this study, the authors compare four approaches for identifying children needing early and intensive intervention to prevent or minimize caries experience for their accuracy and clinical usefulness.


The authors screened 229 predominantly low-income Hispanic children younger than 3 years with ECC and 242 without ECC by using the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry's Caries-risk Assessment Tool (CAT) and the optional screening measure of culturing Streptococcus mutans. The authors compared four approaches (CAT, CAT minus socioeconomic status, CAT minus socioeconomic status plus mutans streptococci [MS] and MS alone) for accuracy and clinical usefulness.


The results of the CAT demonstrated high sensitivity (100.0 percent) and negative predictive value (NPV) (100.0 percent) but low specificity (2.9 percent) and positive predictive value (PPV) (49.4 percent). The MS culture alone had the highest combination of accuracy and clinical usefulness (sensitivity, 86.5 percent; specificity, 93.4 percent; PPV, 92.5 percent; NPV, 87.9 percent). When we removed the socioeconomic status element, the CAT's performance improved.


Salivary culture of MS alone in a population of young, low-income Hispanic children outperformed the CAT and variations on the CAT for test accuracy (sensitivity and specificity) and clinical usefulness (predictive values).


Screening for ECC by using salivary MS cultures and variations on the CAT are promising approaches for identifying children who need early and intensive intervention to prevent or minimize caries experience.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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