Conquering Cavities

Highlighting a chronic problem in one of India's most vulnerable populations

India is estimated to have more than 20 million orphaned children. It's a crisis that has led to troubling high school drop-out and literacy rates. But a less-studied challenge also is afflicting these children: the poor state of their teeth.

To better understand the problem, Amit Chattopadhyay, PhD, an adjunct professor of oral and maxillofacial medicine and diagnostic sciences at Case Western Reserve's School of Dental Medicine, traveled to the Indian state of Kerala, where he and colleagues from colleges and universities in India and Australia examined 1,137 children in 31 orphanages.

They found that 77% of 6-year-olds in state and privately run orphanages have cavities, which can contribute to malnutrition when pain from chewing limits what children eat. Older children fared slightly better: Cavities were found in 44% of 12-year-olds. But the oral pain was obvious.

The researchers' study was published last year in the International Dental Journal and funded by the International Association of Dental Research.

Chattopadhyay said the findings highlight the scourge of cavities in developing nations in particular and serve as a reminder that the problem also extends beyond these countries.

"The findings are not really that different from what exists in some parts of the United States," said Chattopadhyay, who also has master's degrees in dental surgery (his specialty was oral pathology), public health and business administration. "It's an issue of poverty and people not getting adequate access to health care."

He hopes evidence-based researchincluding his recent workwill draw the attention of "people in power" and lead to improved prevention strategies, such as more funding for local universities or colleges to send mobile dental vans to more orphanages.

— Andrew Faught