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Abstract

Objectives: This paper explores the role of race/ethnicity in the occurrence of early childhood caries (ECC) among California Head Start (HS) and non-HS preschool children. Methods: Using oral examination and questionnaire data from the 1993-94 California Oral Health Needs Assessment of Children, we computed the prevalence of ECC using various definitions and fitted logistic regression models to explore the effect of race/ethnicity on ECC, separately for HS and non-HS children, adjusting for bedtime feeding habits and other covariates. Results: Among 2,520 children, the largest proportion with a history of falling asleep sipping milk/sweet substance was among Latinos/Hispanics (72% among HS and 65% among non-HS) and HS Asians (56%). HS Asians and Latinos/Hispanics had the largest prevalence of ECC (30%-33%) and untreated caries (49%-54%). The estimated risk for ECC was more than three times higher in HS Asians compared to HS whites and among non-HS African Americans and Asians compared to non-HS whites controlling for socioeconomic status variables. The risk of ECC was also significantly higher among children who fell asleep while sipping milk or any sweet substance compared to those who did not. Conclusion: Studies of the cultural/behavioral patterns that may be specific to ethnic subgroups with the highest risk for ECC seem essential to the development of effective prevention strategies.