February is National Children's Dental Health Month, a time to raise awareness of the dental health crisis plaguing millions of America's children at risk of developing the number one chronic disease. Alarmingly, children as young as the age of two are experiencing cavities in their primary teeth; nearly one fourth of those children will go untreated.
Even more distressing is the staggering number of youth and adolescents who will experience decay in their permanent teeth before even finishing middle school.
Tooth decay is recognized by the Center for Disease Control as the #1 chronic childhood disease in America and the adverse effects reach far beyond a simple toothache. Poor oral health in children has been linked to adverse health risks, lack of confidence, difficulty with speech and articulation, trouble concentrating on tasks and difficulty with eating.
Though tooth decay affects all children, Latino and African American adolescents experience higher rates of decay. A study conducted by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research concludes that as many as 65% of Latino adolescents have untreated cavities in permanent teeth. As children grow, health risks can increase leading to more serious medical conditions in adulthood such as diabetes, heart disease, dementia and certain types of cancer.
"Dental decay can cause problems that greatly affect a child's quality of life and ability to succeed, " says Dr. Leslie Townsend, DDS., Regional Dental Director at Jefferson Dental Clinics. "It is in the hands of parents and caregivers to emphasize the importance consistent hygiene habits and develop those practices with their children. With proper prevention and care, tooth decay is completely preventable."
These expert tips support the reinforcement of healthy oral hygiene practices for children from an early age:
‘«ů By age 1, kids need to be in the habit of cleaning their teeth at least twice a day. For babies and toddlers, use a wet cloth or special wipes to wipe down the surface of the gums after meals.
‘«ů After age 3 children are ready to brush with a children's brush, introduce a toothpaste containing fluoride to strengthen tooth enamel. The American Dental Association does not recommend using fluoride for children under the age of 2.
‘«ů Check with your dentist about the use of dental sealants, a plastic protective coating applied to the back of your child's teeth to prevent decay.
‘«ů As soon as your child has two teeth that touch, it's time to start flossing. Assist by demonstrating how to floss, and by teaching the importance of regular care. By skipping flossing you neglect up to 35% of surfaces of teeth.
‘«ů Prepare nutritious and balanced meals. Limit sugary and sticky foods, which can increase bacteria and acids that destroy tooth enamel.
‘«ů Keep in mind that even some fruit juices can contain as much sugar as a can of soda. Limit baby bottles to contain only water, formula or milk.
‘«ů Schedule regular visits to the dentist every six months for professional cleanings and oral exams.
‘«ů Finally, make sure to model proper health for children. Set the example, healthy smiles should run in the family.
Many private health insurance plans cover the cost of up to two dental cleanings per year, so take a step towards preventive oral health care. Plans such as Medicaid and CHIP help to cover the cost of dental visits for those who qualify.
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.givingsmiles.com.