Vitamin D could be the magic answer to reducing tooth decay in children.
Researchers at the University of Auckland and AUT are looking at the impact on the teeth of children who were given vitamin D while in the womb until they were six months old to see if it has made a difference to their dental health.
The study is one of two dental projects receiving $100,000 each from CureKids this year and announced today on World Oral Health Day.
The other study is a project to see whether children can be spared from having their teeth drilled and filled to remove plaque in favour of a method where a cap is simply placed over the tooth.
About 260 children, now 2 years old, will have their teeth examined to see whether those who had taken vitamin D from when their teeth were developing when they were at 27 weeks gestation until they were 6 months old have better dental health.
Their mothers will be asked about their children's dietary habits to assess how this may have affected their teeth.
The group of South Auckland mothers were enrolled in the study in 2010 and were given drops of either a low or high dose of vitamin D, or a placebo to take everyday in 2010.
Associate Professor Cameron Grant, who is leading the study, said historic studies from the 1930s and 1940s showed Vitamin D was helpful in preventing and treating dental cavities and the new research would test whether it would work for New Zealand children.
Research carried out recently in Canada had also found a link between those with lower vitamin D levels having more cavities.
"At the moment we don't recommend it routinely during pregnancy or infancy," Professor Grant said.
"A number of other countries do and we just need to understand whether that is something required in New Zealand as well."
Researchers at Otago University have also received about $100,000 in funding from Cure Kids to extend a study that could see whether the method of removing decay by drilling it out and filling the hole under general anaesthesia could be replaced with the newer Hall technique. The technique, named after its Scottish developer, involves placing a stainless cap or crown on the tooth to seal in decay.
Lead researcher Dr Lyndie Foster Page said once a cap was placed on the tooth, no more treatment was required, whereas fillings given to young children often had to be replaced.
Up to 1,000 children between the ages of 3 and 7 will be recruited from the Whanganui District Health Board catchment.
Half of those with cavities in their baby molars will be given fillings and the other half will have their teeth capped. An estimated 776 children are expected to be involved in the study.
A feasibility study last year confirmed the Hall technique was practical for dental therapists to use in New Zealand and was tolerated by children.
Word of mouth
• Almost 5,000 children are treated in New Zealand every year for dental decay
• 1,000 children will be recruited from the Whanganui DHB to participate in the research comparing the Hall technique to fillings
• 260 mothers and babies participated in a study to test whether vitamin D could improve dental health.
Mum seizes chance to help
Lianne Bell would do anything she could to improve her children's dental health.
That's why the South Auckland mother jumped at a chance to be involved in a study when she was pregnant with her third child to see whether vitamin D could improve dental health. Ms Bell was one of 260 mothers to participate in the trial in 2010.
As it turns out, Ms Bell and daughter Hollie Smith, now 2-and-a-half, found out last month they were taking a placebo so don't know whether it would have made a difference to Hollie's teeth.
"I'm actually probably a little bit disappointed that she [Hollie] wasn't taking the vitamin D in the way it could have benefited her teeth.You do have children that have more decay problems and teeth problems so I was quite happy to participate in that study for the fact that if it makes your children healthier, why wouldn't you do it? There's no health risk really of taking vitamin D."
Ms Bell said the young girl's teeth, like her two older brothers Ryan Smith, 4, and Matthew Walker, 10, were in good condition and all seem to be fine going to the dentist.
"They've never really had any invasive stuff done to their teeth so that's probably why. Time will tell."
She did, however, often have a battle with her eldest over brushing his teeth and said there was always a concern that his teeth would fail as an adult, so welcomed any research that could help parents do their part to improve their children's dental health.
• Read more stories on the fight against tooth decay here.