Maternal Taste Preferences and Early Childhood Caries Incidence

Dietary habits, especially a high daily intake of sugars, correlate with caries experience in pre-school and school-age children. A genetic component, based on the ability to taste the bitterness of the chemical 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP), enters into certain food preferences. People with the ability to recognize PROP (known as supertasters) tend to dislike sweet tastes, preferring weaker tastes, while those who cannot recognize PROP (known as nontasters) prefer sweeter and stronger tastes.

Previous studies of children and adolescents show that nontasters have significantly more dental caries than do supertasters. However, their mothers’ food preferences may affect the decisions of what foods to offer their children. Alanzi et al from Kuwait University examined whether an association exists between mothers’ taste perceptions and their children’s early childhood caries prevalence.

The study originally included 60 children (aged 24–36 months) who presented to the pediatric clinic at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry. Their mothers were tested for PROP sensitivity; 18 mothers were nontasters, 20 were supertasters. (The children of 22 medium-taster mothers were excluded from the study.) Orally administered questionnaires recorded the moth-ers’ demographic information and oral health status, along with the children’s oral hygiene and dietary practices. Each child was examined by mouth mirror and fixed dental unit light for early childhood caries based on decayed, missing and filled surfaces (dmfs) score.

The oral examinations showed that 45% of the children (n = 17) had caries (defined as a dmfs >1). Of these children, 71% (n = 12) had mothers who were non-tasters, a statistically significant difference (p = .009). Children of nontaster mothers had significantly higher dmfs scores in their maxillary teeth than did children of supertaster mothers (p = .04; Figure 2). Children whose mothers had active dental caries had significantly higher dmfs scores than did children whose mothers did not have active dental cares (3.9 ± 5.3 vs 0.5 ± 1.2; p = .04).

Children of PROP nontaster mothers who shared a home with grandparents had significantly higher levels of caries than did similar children in homes without grandparents. This could reflect a genetic predisposition passed from generation to generation. Based on the results of this study, PROP screening for mothers may help identify children at risk for early childhood caries.

Alanzi A, Minah G, Romberg E, et al. Mothers’ taste perceptions and their preschool children’s dental caries experiences. Pediatr Dent 2013;35:510-514.

Stephen Wall