• dental caries;
  • diet;
  • prevalence;
  • Streptococcus mutans

Abstract – Caufield et al. (1) have suggested that the acquisition of mutans streptococci in young children most likely takes place during a “window of infectivity” from 19 to 31 months of age. Objectives and Methods: This study determined the prevalence of dental caries and bacterial infection in a randomly selected sample of 199 children 6 to 36 months old from the island of Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, USA. The relationships between caries and Streptococcus mutans infection, hypoplasia, diet and oral hygiene behavior were investigated. Results and Conclusions: The overall estimated prevalence of caries was high: 46.8% of the children had white spot lesions and 39.1% had enamel cavitation. Colonization was seen in very young children; S. mutans was detected in 25% of the predentate children. The results of multi-variable modeling support the hypothesis that bacterial infection, diet, and hypoplasia are important in the etiology of dental caries in this population. Adjusted for age and ethnicity, children with a high level of S. mutans detected were 5 times more likely to have dental caries than children with a lower level of S. mutans detected. Hypoplasia and a high cariogenicity score (diet) were also significant independent predictors. The odds of having any white spot lesions or enamel cavitation were 9.6 times greater for children with any hypoplasia, and 7.8 times greater for children with high cariogenicity scores relative to those with lower scores after adjusting for level of S. mutans, age and ethnicity. Sleeping with a bottle, maternal sharing of utensils, and high snacking frequency were not significant predictors of caries in this population.