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Pediatr Dent. 2015 May-Jun;37(3):200-16.

Prevalence and Measurement of Dental Caries in Young Children.

Author information

National Institute of Health, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, Bethesda, Md., USA.
Division of Pediatric Dentistry, University of Maryland School of Dentistry, Baltimore, Md., USA.
Harris Corporation, under a contract with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Md., USA.



Dental caries in preschool children was historically considered to have a unique and more intense pattern of decay and was known by a variety of terms. In 1999, the term early childhood caries (ECC), along with a classification system, was proposed to facilitate epidemiologic research of dental caries in young children. The purpose of this study was to assess the impact of those early childhood caries recommendations on the prevalence and measurement of caries in preschool children.


A systematic search of the MEDLINE database was performed. Key search words included: ECC, dental decay, dental caries, carious dentin, baby bottle tooth decay, nursing caries, maxillary anterior caries, and labial caries. English language studies and studies on more than 100 children younger than six years old were eligible for selection. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data collected from 1988 to 1994, 1999 to 2004, and 2011 to 2012 were used to assess ECC prevalence using different operational definitions.


There were 87 articles selected for this review. The term ECC was used in 55 percent of the selected articles as the primary outcome measure. The majority of studies used a cross-section study design, but diagnostic criteria varied greatly. Caries experience in young children may be shifting away from majority of untreated surfaces to a majority of restored surfaces. Little difference was observed by dental surface type in the distribution of decayed and filled surfaces in primary teeth.


Although the term early childhood caries is widely used, varied use of diagnostic criteria and operational definitions continue to limit comparability across studies. Emerging changes in the proportion of decayed and filled surfaces in the United States also raises questions regarding the ECC case definition limiting our ability to understand the epidemiology of dental caries in preschool children.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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