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Video games, stressful lifestyles may increase cavities in children: study

Children gather shoulder-to-shoulder with game consoles in hand in Yokohama's Nishi Ward in this Dec. 27, 2012 file photo. (Mainichi)

TOYAMA -- Can watching television and playing video games for long periods of time increase the risk of children developing cavities? A study of elementary school children conducted by a research team affiliated with the University of Toyama found that there could be a link.

    For the Japan Dental Association's "Dental and Oral Health Week" running from June 4 to 10, the Community Medicine & Health Support Division of the University of Toyama Organization for Promotion of Regional Collaboration released the results of a January 2016 dietary education survey.

    The appearance of cavities in children has been decreasing in recent years due to the spread of fluoride painting treatments. Research focusing on the link between child cavities and lifestyle habits is rare, and the division partnered with the prefectural board of education to deepen understanding of the lifestyle trends of those children who still develop cavities. The survey response rate was 94.2 percent and the results were analyzed alongside pediatric dentists in the city of Toyama.

    Professor Michikazu Sekine, head of the Community Medicine & Health Support Division of the University of Toyama Organization for Promotion of Regional Collaboration, is pictured at the University of Toyama Graduate School of Medicine and Pharmaceutical Science in the prefectural capital city of Toyama on June 2, 2017. (Mainichi)

    The survey covering 2,109 school children -- the total of all children from five elementary schools in Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture -- found that in comparison to the 8.6 percent of students with cavities who reported less than two hours of media consumption per day, the ratio of students with cavities grew to 9.8 percent for two to four hours per day, and to 15.4 percent for over four hours. In other words, the percentage of children who developed cavities rose in proportion to the time they reported watching television or playing video games.

    The questionnaire, comprised of questions on 50 different categories such as children's dietary patterns, lifestyle habits and psychical condition, also examined how many hours of sleep the children got per night and whether or not they ate breakfast. Only 6.4 percent of children who got over nine hours of sleep had cavities, while the number grew to 8.5 percent for eight to nine hours of sleep, and 14.2 percent for less than 8 hours per night. Additionally, 8.6 percent of children who ate breakfast every morning had cavities, while the percentage of those with cavities who ate breakfast only occasionally or almost never rose to 16.2 and 27.3 percent, respectively. Apart from exposure to television and video games, inconsistent lifestyle and dietary habits also appeared to affect the development of cavities.

    "When in an excited state triggered by playing video games or other media, or due to the stress from lack of sleep or an empty stomach, the secretion of saliva decreases, and it may make it easier for cavities to form," head of the Community Medicine & Health Support Division, professor Michikazu Sekine explained.

    According to Sekine, saliva works to prevent the formation of cavities, and humans produce more when they are in a relaxed state than in an anxious or stressful one. The division has also surveyed the parents of the children in order to conduct more detailed analysis.

    "There is a tendency to focus on oral hygiene such as teeth-brushing, but establishing a healthy lifestyle such as eating well and getting enough sleep is just as important to prevent cavities," said Sekine.

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