Spotlight on Associate Professor Loc Do
Associate Professor Loc Do and his team will use $1,229,852 to examine the effects of socioeconomic circumstances on child oral health conditions, which can be mediated by dietary patterns, use of fluoride and dental service.
Your study is a continuation of previous work. What did that foundation work involve?
We started with the Study of Life Events Affecting Oral Health (SMILE), which developed through my PhD project and first two National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grants. With the support of prominent international researchers—Emeritus Professor Andrew Rugg-Gunn from the United Kingdom and Professor John Stamm and Professor Steven Levy from the United States of America—we investigated changes in socioeconomic inequality in child oral health and long-term impact of fluoride use in early childhood. That study collected an enormous amount of high quality information about many aspects of early childhood development that will be important for subsequent life stages. We also conducted dental checks for mothers and children in the SMILE when children had turned 24 months.
How will your new study move forward?
This newly funded study will allow us to continue collecting information every year until children have turned seven years old—an important life stage. We will call this new phase ‘SMILE for SCHOOL’. The collected information will help us examine socioeconomic differences in dietary patterns, dental care and use of dental services. We will be able to determine how to modify risk and what protective factors might exist.
Why is this study so important?
This is arguably one of the largest and most comprehensive birth cohort studies targeting child oral health. The findings of this study will inform timely and effective preventive and interceptive measures early in life to avert the onset and progression of child dental diseases and conditions. This scientific evidence will inform actions to reduce socioeconomic inequality in child oral health, both in Australia and internationally.
What are the issues facing children and their parents when it comes to oral health?
Despite substantial resources being directed to dental services for children in Australia, dental decay in children is one of the most prevalent chronic conditions exerting significant impact on the health care system and the quality of life of affected children and their family. The 2012-14 National Child Oral Health Study reported that 40% of children aged five years had dental decay and many had untreated decay. More alarmingly, there is ample evidence of a skewed distribution of oral health with a small proportion of children in the population bearing the majority of the burden of the disease. That minority group is comprised mostly of socioeconomically disadvantaged children leading to widening gaps between socioeconomic groups.
Tell us about your team for this study.
The SMILE study has an international and multidisciplinary team with investigators. My co-investigator, Dr Diep Ha, and Emeritus Professor John Spencer and I are oral epidemiologists from the University of Adelaide. Associate Professor Rebecca Golley and Professor Jane Scott are public health nutritional researchers at Flinders University and Curtin University. Professor David Manton is a paediatric dentist at Melbourne University. Professor Murray Thomson is an oral epidemiologist at University of Otago in New Zealand and Dr Sam Leary is a senior statistician at University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. The team has internationally recognised expertise in dental research, paediatric dentistry, nutritional research and statistics.
What are you excited about as part of this study?
We are particularly excited with the prospect of being the first team in the world to be able to examine longitudinal inter-relationship between socioeconomic factors and risk and protective factors on child oral health.
Are there any personal circumstances that inspired you to pursue your research?
My clinical career as a paediatric dental surgeon led me to observe lots of suffering of young children with dental problems. That inspired me to research to prevent those problems for children—especially very young ones.
Why do you think many kids are scared of the dentist?
Most children develop their feelings towards dental care at their first dental visit. If their first ever dental visit is for already developed dental problems that require physical treatments, that may leave a long-lasting fear.
What’s one thing you wish all parents knew about child oral health?
Every single tooth, even baby tooth, has its important role for long-term dental health.