Examining caries aetiology in adolescence with structural equation modelling

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This analysis examines the aetiology of caries development in adolescents using structural equation modelling to identify behavioural mediators of the relationship between socioeconomic status (SES) and caries incidence, and to investigate the role of sex on caries-preventive behaviour and caries.


This analysis was based on data from the Iowa Fluoride Study, a longitudinal study of a birth cohort. We hypothesized that socioeconomic status earlier in life has a direct effect on caries development and an indirect effect from improved behavioural variables—dental visit attendance, toothbrushing frequency and percentage of beverage intake consisting of sugar-sweetened beverages—and that sex also plays a role in behavioural variables, as well as caries. A structural equation model was developed based on these hypotheses, and direct and indirect standardized path coefficients were calculated, as well as their standard errors.


Based on our proposed model, SES at birth significantly influences SES during adolescence, but not adolescent behaviours. The effect of SES during adolescence on caries in the permanent dentition is mediated by adolescent behaviours. Female participants have worse caries than male participants, despite lower self-reported percentages of sugar-sweetened beverage intake and more frequent brushing and dental attendance.


This analysis models the relationships among known causal factors for caries and suggests that the role of SES in caries may not be as important as previously thought and different behaviours that affect oral health between males and females as well as differences in caries between the sexes could begin during adolescence. These findings could help improve caries prevention programmes for adolescents.

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