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Can type of school be used as an alternative indicator of socioeconomic status in dental caries studies? A cross-sectional study

Chaiana Piovesan1, Monica Carneiro Pádua2, Thiago Machado Ardenghi13, Fausto Medeiros Mendes1* and Gabriela Cunha Bonini2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry, School of Dentistry, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

2 School and Center for Dental Research, São Leopoldo Mandic, Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil

3 Department of Stomatology, University of Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2011, 11:37  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-11-37

Published: 2 April 2011



Despite the importance of collecting individual data of socioeconomic status (SES) in epidemiological oral health surveys with children, this procedure relies on the parents as respondents. Therefore, type of school (public or private schools) could be used as an alternative indicator of SES, instead of collecting data individually. The aim of this study was to evaluate the use of the variable type of school as an indicator of socioeconomic status as a substitute of individual data in an epidemiological survey about dental caries in Brazilian preschool children.


This study followed a cross-sectional design, with a random sample of 411 preschool children aged 1 to 5 years, representative of Catalão, Brazil. A calibrated examiner evaluated the prevalence of dental caries and parents or guardians provided information about several individual socioeconomic indicators by means of a semi-structured questionnaire. A multilevel approach was used to investigate the association among individual socioeconomic variables, as well as the type of school, and the outcome.


When all significant variables in the univariate analysis were used in the multiple model, only mother's schooling and household income (individual socioeconomic variables) presented significant associations with presence of dental caries, and the type of school was not significantly associated. However, when the type of school was used alone, children of public school presented significantly higher prevalence of dental caries than those enrolled in private schools.


The type of school used as an alternative indicator for socioeconomic status is a feasible predictor for caries experience in epidemiological dental caries studies involving preschool children in Brazilian context.