February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, a time to recognize and combat tooth decay, the #1 chronic childhood disease in America.
As many as 20 million children have had cavities in their primary teeth by age 11. Even more alarming is the nearly one-quarter of children who will not receive dental care for tooth decay.
“The adverse effects of tooth decay reach far beyond a simple toothache,” says Dr. Leslie Townsend, DDS., Regional Dental Director, Jefferson Dental Clinics. “Dental decay affects a child’s quality of life, ability to succeed, and can cause adverse health risks.”
Poor oral health in children has been linked to missed school days, poor concentration, lack of confidence, difficulty with speech and articulation, and difficulty with eating.
“There is a misconception that tooth decay in primary teeth doesn’t matter because they are eventually replaced by permanent teeth, however tooth decay and poor gum health can negatively impact how permanent teeth develop,” says Dr. Townsend. “Moreover, establishing good care of primary teeth teaches kids proper oral health habits that last throughout life.”
Tooth decay rates range disproportionately high and more severe in Hispanic and African American adolescents, as well as families with lower socioeconomic income levels. A study by the National Craniofacial Institute concluded that as many as 65% of Hispanic adolescents have caries in permanent teeth.
Parents are the greatest advocates in combatting tooth decay rates. Here are some expert tips for health professionals, parents and care givers to reinforce healthy oral hygiene practices for children from an early age:
Tips: Oral Hygiene Practices for Children
- Begin caring for children’s teeth, even before they erupt. Wipe the gums of babies and toddlers after meals with a wet cloth or special wipes.
- Limit baby bottles to contain only water, formula or milk. The acidity of sodas and sugar in juices can lead to decomposition of tooth enamel.
- Children age 3 and older should brush with a child’s toothbrush and toothpaste.
- Flossing is an important step for all children with teeth. By skipping flossing you neglect up to 35% of surfaces of teeth.
- Children should regularly visit the dentist every year for professional cleanings and oral exams.
- Dental sealants, a plastic protective coating applied to the back of your child’s teeth, can help further prevent decay.
- Finally lead by example by modeling healthy habits yourself.
Government plans such as Medicaid and CHIP cover the cost of dental visits for those who qualify. Many private health insurance plans cover the cost of up to two dental cleanings per year, so take advantage!
“Every child deserves a healthy start,” says Dr. Townsend. “It’s never too early to reinforce the healthy oral hygiene habits our children need to avoid falling victim to our current dental crisis.”
For more information about oral health care and prevention education, visit www.jeffersondentalclinics.com.