Take a look around an elementary school classroom: half or more of kids will have had tooth decay prior to entering secondary school. Tooth decay is the #1 chronic childhood disease in America; 5 times more common than asthma and 4 times more common than obesity. While tooth decay is both preventable and treatable, nearly one-quarter of all young children will never have the cavities in their primary teeth filled.
February is Children’s Dental Health Month, a time to spread awareness around the crippling oral health crisis that costs adults and children time off of work and school, and annually costs tax payers more than $2 billion in emergency costs.
Untreated tooth decay brings a lifetime of consequences for a child’s speech, ability to eat, self-esteem, sleep, academic performance and attendance, development of permanent teeth, and can even be fatal.
Latino and black children fare worse than peers, suffering from disproportionate rates of untreated and more severe tooth decay. Low-income children, despite access to programs like CHIP and Medicaid, experience twice as much untreated decay than peers of higher incomes.
Parents play an enormous role in ensuring that kids are diligent about their dental care routine, however rates of decay and gum disease in adults signal that there needs to be a shift in how households approach oral health.
There are gaps between ideology and practice of dental care. While it is widely accepted that dental care is important, a 2013 Gallop Poll reported that only about 65 percent of adults visited the dentist for their annual visit, a stagnant figure that sat unchanged from the previous poll taken in 2008. Similarly, one-third of adults admit to not brushing their teeth twice daily, and rates of flossing are even more abysmal.
“The great news is that cavities are preventable. But if kids are to stay healthy, adults have to step up and practice good oral hygiene,” says Dr. Townsend. “Kids emanate behaviors that they see.”
Here are easy tips to help families improve daily dental care routines:
- Let each family member pick their toothbrush, manual or electric doesn’t matter so much as brushing for the recommended 2 minutes, twice daily.
- Floss between each tooth to clean the areas that a toothbrush alone cannot reach. Kids and adults alike should be flossing daily to remove particles from around the teeth and under the gums.
- Help younger kids brush and floss their teeth, since little ones lack the dexterity that older kids and adults have.
- Babies and toddlers need care too. Wipe down babies’ gums after feedings, and use a soft toothbrush to clean all baby teeth in a child’s mouth.
- Take dental care on the road during Spring Break travel. Even though breakfast or sleep schedules may be more flexible during vacations, it is important to make sure that kids are keeping up with their dental care.
- Visit the dentist every six months for a regular exam, x-rays and teeth cleaning. A child should start seeing a dentist by his or her first birthday.