Vulnerability related to oral health in early childhood: a concept analysis


D.J. Mattheus: e-mail:


mattheus d.j. (2010) Vulnerability related to oral health in early childhood: concept analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing66(9), 2116–2125.


Aim.  This article is a report of the analysis of the concept of vulnerability and its relationship to oral health in early childhood.

Background.  Poor oral health is a continued problem for children worldwide. Vulnerability increases the probability of poor oral health outcomes. The lack of clarity of the concept of vulnerability creates difficulty in understanding this multi-factoral condition.

Data sources.  Data source included 34 articles covering the period 2000–2009 from a variety of disciplines, including nursing, dentistry, medicine and public health.

Methods.  The concept analysis was conducted using Rodgers’ evolutionary method. The literature was analysed and a social ecology model was used to frame the discussion, recognizing family and community influences on children’s oral health.

Results.  The context of oral health in early childhood contributes to the changes in the concept vulnerability. The attributes are closely related to family and community factors and identified as limited parental income, parental education, community-based services and fluoride; and exposure to poor parental habits, parental neglect and harmful toxins. The primary antecedent is identified as a form of limited protection from exposure to various circumstances.

Conclusion.  Children with limited protection have increased vulnerability and greater probability of poor health outcomes. Nurses who understand the concept of vulnerability related to oral health and can identify factors that create protection and are capable of decreasing vulnerability through parent education, community awareness and policy changes that support children and families.