Introduction: Dental caries is the most common non-communicable human disease, yet little is known about the role of environmental metals, despite teeth consisting of a hard matrix of trace elements. We conducted a cross-sectional study of associations between environmental metals and objective assessment of dental caries and subjective assessments of oral health among a representative sample of U.S. children and adolescents. Methods: Data were from the 2017–March 2020 pre-pandemic data file of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). To account for metal mixtures, we used weighted quantile sum (WQS) regression to estimate the joint impact of multiple trace elements assessed in blood and urine with oral disease outcomes. Results: The blood metal mixture index was associated with a 32% (95% CI: 1.11, 1.56) increased risk of decayed surfaces while the urine metal mixture index was associated with a 106%, RR (95% CI = 2.06 (1.58, 2.70) increased caries risk. For both blood and urine, Mercury (Hg) had the largest contribution to the mixture index followed by Lead (Pb). The WQS blood metal mixture index was also significantly associated with poorer self-rated oral health, although the magnitude of the association was not as strong as for the objective oral disease measures, RR (95% CI) = 1.04 (1.02, 1.07). Discussion: Increased exposure to a metal mixture was significantly related to poorer objective and subjective oral health outcomes among U.S. children and adolescents. These are among the first findings showing that metal mixtures are a significant contributor to poor oral health.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114335
JournalInternational Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health
StatePublished - Apr 2024


  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Dental caries
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Metal mixtures


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