Dental caries experience, care index and restorative index in children with learning disabilities and children without learning disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Mark D. Robertson (Lead / Corresponding author), Falk Schwendicke, Mariana Pinheiro de Araujo, John R. Radford, Jenny C. Harris, Scott McGregor, Nicola P. T. Innes

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Background: Children with learning disabilities (CLD) have worse health outcomes than children with no learning disabilities (CNLD). This systematic review compared caries experience and met dental care need for CLD to CNLD using Decayed, Missing, Filled Permanent Teeth (DMFT) and decayed, missing/extracted, filled primary teeth (dmft/deft), care index (CI), and restorative index (RI) values.

Methods: Without date or language restrictions four databases were searched for; cross-sectional studies comparing caries experience and CI/ RI in CLD matched to groups of CNLD. Screening and data extraction were carried out independently and in duplicate. Risk of bias was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale. Meta-analyses were carried out (random effects model).

Results: There were 25 articles with 3976 children (1 to 18 years old), from 18 countries, fitting the inclusion criteria. Children with; Down syndrome were investigated in 11 studies, autism in 8 and mixed learning disabilities in 6. The overall mean DMFT for CLD was 2.31 (standard deviation±1.97; range 0.22 to 7.2) and for CNLD was 2.51 (±2.14; 0.37 to 4.76). Using standardised mean difference (SMD), meta-analysis showed no evidence of a difference between CLD and CNLD (n = 16 studies) for caries experience (SMD = -0.43; 95%CI = -0.91 to 0.05). This was similar for sub-groups of children with autism (SMD = -0.28; 95%CI = 1.31 to 0.75) and mixed disabilities (SMD = 0.26; 95%CI = -0.94 to 1.47). However, for children with Down syndrome, caries experience was lower for CLD than CNLD (SMD = -0.73; 95%CI = -1.28 to - 0.18). For primary teeth, mean dmft/deft was 2.24 for CLD and 2.48 for CNLD (n = 8 studies). Meta-analyses showed no evidence of a difference between CLD and CNLD for caries experience across all disability groups (SMD = 0.41; 95% CI = -0.14 to 0.96), or in sub-groups: Down syndrome (SMD = 0.55; 95%CI- = - 0.40 to 1.52), autism (SMD = 0.43; 95%CI = -0.53 to 2.39) and mixed disabilities (SMD = -0.10; 95%CI = -0.34 to 0.14). The studies' risk of bias were medium to high.

Conclusion: There was no evidence of a difference in caries levels in primary or permanent dentitions for CLD and CNLD. This was similar for learning disability sub-groups, except for Down syndrome where dental caries levels in permanent teeth was lower. Data on met need for dental caries was inconclusive.

Trial Registration: The protocol was published in PROSPERO: CRD42017068964 (June 8th, 2017).

Original languageEnglish
Article number146
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalBMC Oral Health
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2019



  • Care index
  • Children
  • Dental caries
  • Learning disability
  • Restorative index
  • Systematic review

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