Native Village
Youth and Education news
 Volume 3  February 2011

Preventing tooth decay in the youngest American Indians
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Indiana: When Europeans invaded America, they brought many diseases with them including measles, influenza,  smallpox. .. and premature tooth decay. 

Until then, tooth decay was mostly a disease of old age. But when sugar and sugary foods were introduced to American Indians, things changed.  Now tooth decay affects Native Americans of all ages, including young children.

The results of “The Toddler Overweight and Tooth Decay Prevention Study” may offer a way to prevent tooth decay in Native children. The study targeted American Indians from birth - 30 months in four Pacific Northwest Indian communities. During the 2˝ year study, researchers and tribal councils in three of those communities:

Made good tasting water easily available in water foundations and inexpensive, refillable gallon jugs.

Removed sugared soda from tribal stores.

Encouraged drinking water in community outreach programs.

Offered food counseling and breastfeeding support by tribal health workers.

The fourth community made no changes to enable comparison rates with the other three.

When the study ended, researchers compared the children's tooth decay rates. The results in the first three communities:

Tooth decay decreased 30-60% in the early stages of reversible tooth decay.

For more advanced tooth decay, the impact was smaller but substantial.

Children had
34-44% few cavities than those in the fourth community

“These Pacific Northwest tribes consider water a sacred drink, so tribal elders liked the idea of regaining American Indian values," said Gerado Maupom, head researcher from Indiana University. "It was a culturally attractive choice."

Maupon said that before the study, baby bottles and sippy cups filled with sweet drinks had been common on the reservation. He warned that unless water and fresh produce are available and affordable, parents will continue giving children cheap and easy to find soda and junk foods.

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