April is National Minority Health Month, a time to combat the dental health disparity facing Latino children. Latino children experience tooth decay rates at a far higher rate than their non-Latino White and African American peers.
"Our Latino youth are experiencing disproportionate levels of dental cavities," says Dr. Leslie Renee Townsend, DDS., Jefferson Dental Clinics Regional Dental Director. "It is clear that is time to intervene on advancing oral health initiatives aimed at creating good dental health habits from an early age."
As many as 55% of Latino children ages 2-11 have had dental cavities in their primary teeth and nearly 65% of Latino teens have had cavities in permanent teeth, according to data from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
Additional research also suggests that Latino youth are twice more likely to experience untreated tooth decay than their peers. The Center for Disease Control recognizes tooth decay as the number one chronic childhood illness in the United States.
Issues attributed to tooth decay reach far beyond a simple toothache. Tooth decay in children has been correlated to problems with eating, difficulties with speech and articulation, difficulty concentrating and completing school work, headaches and even lowered self-esteem. Annually an estimated 51 million missed school hours can be attributed to dental related problems.
"Every stage of a child's development is important for dental care. We are now seeing infant tooth decay on the rise, as well as older children with more dental cavities," said Dr. Leslie Renee Townsend, DDS., Jefferson Dental Clinics Regional Dental Director. "It is important for parents and caregivers to remember that early care and prevention is a first step at preparing a child for a lifetime of good oral health.
Parents can take preventative measures to protect children. Primary (baby) teeth are the basis for growing healthy permanent teeth in adulthood. Establishing a thorough oral health routine that includes brushing and flossing twice daily, and two regular dental visits each year are vital to maintaining healthy mouths. A child should visit a dentist by his or her first birthday.
Dental sealants are a protective coating that can be applied to children's teeth, in particular hard-to-reach back molars, to help reduce the risk of cavities. This treatment is particularly ideal for children who are learning to brush.
Eating foods that sustain overall health, and that also promote healthy teeth and gums, is an important way to fortify oral health. Flossing should become a regular habit, especially after consuming meats and fibrous vegetables.
Overall, it is important that families treat oral hygiene as a family-wide habit; great smiles should run in the family! Preventing tooth decay is a first step at combating the dental health crisis, and improving health outcomes for young Latinos. Visit www.jeffersondentalclinics.com for more resources and prevention information.