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Dental caries in children in Ireland: A systematic review.

BACKGROUND: Dental caries is the most common childhood disease worldwide. In the mid-1960s, mandatory Community Water Fluoridation (CWF) was introduced in the Republic of Ireland (RoI) aimed at reducing the prevalence and severity of dental caries in the population. In 2017, approximately, 71% of the Irish population was supplied with fluoridated drinking water.

OBJECTIVES: To review all children's dental health surveys at National, Regional and County-levels conducted in the Republic of Ireland from 1950 to 2021 and describe trends in dental caries prevalence. The secondary objective was to compare dental caries experience in children living in areas with and without CWF.

METHODS: Seven databases (Embase, Medline Ovid, PubMed, Cochrane, Web of Science, Scopus and Lenus Ireland) were systematically searched followed by lateral searches from reference lists. Studies reporting the caries experience of Irish children were eligible for inclusion. Two authors independently evaluated the quality of included studies using the Joanna Briggs Institute Critical Appraisal Checklist.

RESULTS: Thirty-one studies were included. Over the last 70 years, at National, Regional and County levels, mean dmft/DMFT (decayed, missing and filled teeth) scores have decreased and the percentage of caries-free children has increased in 5, 8, 12, and 15-year-olds. The decline in dental caries indices observed throughout the country was greater in children living in areas with CWF. Between the 1960s and 2002, the mean dmft scores for 5-year-olds living in the RoI were reduced by approximately 82% and 69% for the fluoridated and non-fluoridated groups respectively. Reduction in the mean DMFT scores for the 12-year-olds were 75% and 71%, respectively, for the fluoridated and non-fluoridated groups. Between 1961 and 2014, reductions in the mean dmft/DMFT scores among 5 and 12-years-olds living in County Dublin were approximately 88% and 90% respectively. These results should be interpreted in the context of widespread use of fluoridated toothpaste in the RoI.

CONCLUSIONS: Large reductions in the prevalence of dental caries in Irish children have been observed over the last seven decades. Greater dental caries reductions have been reported among children living in areas with CWF compared to those without CWF.

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