Iron Deficiency + Childhood Dental Caries

Early childhood dental caries may develop due to a variety of factors, including genetics, high-sugar diets, poor oral hygiene, feeding practices (for example, night time bottles), the shape and form of the teeth, and an enamel deficiency.


Much of the focus to avoid holes in the teeth of our children tends towards making sure their teeth are brushed well and limiting the sugary snacks, but recent research has shown that it might be time to start focusing on other dietary nutrients, specifically iron, if we want our kid’s teeth to stay ‘hole free’!


The Problem with Early Childhood Dental Caries

Whilst it may be tempting to relax about the health of your child’s ‘baby teeth’, because they’ll ‘just fall out anyway’, it is important to understand the impact that early childhood dental caries can have on their overall growth and development. Unchecked dental caries can lead to pain, abscesses, trouble chewing and subsequent malnutrition, as well as sleep disturbances, which all have the potential to hold your child back from reaching their full potential.


The Research: Dental Caries and Iron Deficiency Anaemia

There are some obvious commonalities for both iron deficiency anaemia and early childhood dental caries, including poor feeding practices, and a lower socio-economic status, but a direct link between iron deficiency anaemia and early childhood caries has more recently been underlined.


One recent cross-sectional study, comparing 40 children with iron deficiency anaemia to 40 healthy children, found that those with anaemia, even in a mild form, were more likely to also present with dental caries. These results were replicated in another recent study, where children with anaemia had a significantly higher prevalence of decayed, missing, or filled teeth than those without anaemia.


Due to the nature of these studies, we cannot yet declare a direct ‘causal’ link for iron deficiency anaemia and increased easy childhood dental caries, however, these observations highlight the potential for using the presence of iron deficiency anaemia as a predictor for future dental caries in children. On the flip side, the presence of dental caries in early childhood can be considered a warning sign for low iron or iron deficiency anaemia, and testing should be considered.


Is Iron Deficiency Anaemia Common?

Iron deficiency anaemia in early childhood is more common than you may imagine. This is most likely due to the increased iron requirements for infants, who need more iron per day than an adult male! Iron deficiency anaemia is a major global public health concern, and is most common in children who don’t eat red meat and those who live in poverty.


What Can Be Done?

Based on what we know so far, there is clear evidence for the importance of a good quality diet, with a balance of macronutrients and age-appropriate energy intake to help stop development of dental caries in early life. Focusing on including iron-rich foods as soon as solids are introduced, and ensuring that absorption of iron is optimised by pairing non-heme iron foods with vitamin C will help to reduce the prevalence of iron deficiency anaemia, and thus potentially decrease the risk of developing early childhood dental caries
Brittany Darling
Tags: Iron