Once upon a time, not so long ago, we believed that when we mapped the human genome we would be able to identify the kinds of people children would grow up to be. We hoped that understanding genetics would make it simple: Johnny has gene variants xyz so will grow up to be 190 centimetres tall; Mary has genes abc so will get breast cancer at age 35.
The mapping of the first genome was completed in 2003 and scientists continue to work on cataloguing variations in the genome. It is hoped that with this detailed and growing knowledge, researchers will be able to develop processes to identify risk for developing various illnesses such as breast cancer, liver diseases and cystic fibrosis, and ultimately new ways of treating them. However, with this new knowledge, it quickly became clear that our genetic make-up is not solely responsible for shaping our outcomes and does not tell us the whole story – our environment plays a crucial role too. This has led to the new science of epigenetics.
Oral health care can often be seen as an issue for older, school-aged children, but in fact it is a critical part of infants’ and young children’s health. Primary teeth (also known as milk, baby or deciduous teeth) set the pattern for adult tooth development and any dental caries or tooth decay early in life can lead to painful and expensive dental treatment later.
High rates of tooth decay – or early childhood caries – are a significant issue for preschool-aged children and their families (Dental Health Services Victoria, 2011). A school dental service survey in 2002 showed that 42 per cent of five-year old children experienced dental decay, 75 per cent of which was untreated (Dental Health Services Victoria, 2003).