Parental influences on early childhood caries


The broad aim of this review was to look at the literature that has assessed the role of parental influences in early childhood caries (ECC).  The authors had 4 questions they were hoping to address.

  • What parental variables have been studied within the context of dental caries development in young children aged 0–6 years?
  • What do such studies reveal about the influence of parental variables on risk factors for dental caries in young children?
  • What are the relative strengths and limitations of current approaches to research studying the influence of parental variables in development of dental caries?
  • What recommendations can be made for future research?

Searches of the Medline, ISI, Cochrane, Scopus, Global Health and CINAHL databases were conducted together with the reference list of identified studies. Searches were limited to those performed after December 2005 but not by language. There was no restriction on the design of the studies, with both longitudinal and cross sectional studies included. Only studies that reported the relationship between ECC and the parental factors were included. Two authors extracted information independently using a checklist and tables. Disagreements were resolved by discussion

55 studies were included, the vast majority (47) being cross-sectional.  The parental variables that were explored were in five main categories; socio-demographic; behaviours; feeding practices; knowledge, cognitions and beliefs, attributes and oral health. A qualitative summary of each of these variables was presented.

The authors concluded

To date, most research has focused on the association between caries and socio-demographic and feeding factors with few studies exploring parents’ attributes, attitudes, knowledge and beliefs, and none exploring possible pathways between the multiple layers of influences potentially accounting for how determinants of ECC operate and traverse individual, familial, community, and socio-cultural contexts. Collaboration between Psychologists and Dentists may accelerate the identification and understanding of mechanisms that underlie risk associated with ECC.


Hooley M, et al. Parental influence and the development of dental caries in children aged 0–6 years: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of Dentistry (2012), Article in press



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Derek Richards

Derek Richards is a specialist in dental public health, Director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Dentistry and Specialist Advisor to the Scottish Dental Clinical Effectiveness Programme (SDCEP) Development Team. A former editor of the Evidence-Based Dentistry Journal and chief blogger for the Dental Elf website until December 2023. Derek has been involved with a wide range of evidence-based initiatives both nationally and internationally since 1994. Derek retired from the NHS in 2019 remaining as a part-time senior lecturer at Dundee Dental School until the end of 2023.

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