Understanding Children's Attention to Dental Caries through Eye-Tracking

Vanessa Y. Cho, Janet H. Hsiao, Antoni B. Chan, Hien C. Ngo, Nigel M. King, Robert P. Anthonappa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Visual attention is a significant gateway to a child's mind, and looking is one of the first behaviors young children develop. Untreated caries and the resulting poor dental aesthetics can have adverse emotional and social impacts on children's oral health-related quality of life due to its detrimental effects on self-esteem and self-concept. Therefore, we explored preschool children's eye movement patterns and visual attention to images with and without dental caries via eye movement analysis using hidden Markov models (EMHMM). We calibrated a convenience sample of 157 preschool children to the eye-tracker (Tobii Nano Pro) to ensure standardization. Consequently, each participant viewed the same standardized pictures with and without dental caries while an eye-tracking device tracked their eye movements. Subsequently, based on the sequence of viewed regions of interest (ROIs), a transition matrix was developed where the participants' previously viewed ROI informed their subsequently considered ROI. Hence, an individual's HMM was estimated from their eye movement data using a variational Bayesian approach to determine the optimal number of ROIs automatically. Consequently, this data-driven approach generated the visual task participants' most representative eye movement patterns. Preschool children exhibited two different eye movement patterns, distributed (78%) and selective (21%), which was statistically significant. Children switched between images with more similar probabilities in the distributed pattern while children remained looking at the same ROI than switching to the other ROI in the selective pattern. Nevertheless, all children exhibited an equal starting fixation on the right or left image and noticed teeth. The study findings reveal that most preschool children did not have an attentional bias to images with and without dental caries. Furthermore, only a few children selectively fixated on images with dental caries. Therefore, selective eye-movement patterns may strongly predict preschool children's sustained visual attention to dental caries. Nevertheless, future studies are essential to fully understand the developmental origins of differences in visual attention to common oral health presentations in children. Finally, EMHMM is appropriate for assessing inter-individual differences in children's visual attention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-137
Number of pages9
JournalCaries Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022


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