National Children’s Dental Health Month
It’s February already and that means we’re in the middle of National Children’s Dental Health Month sponsored by the American Dental Association. The ADA hopes to reach millions of children to get them starting lifetime habits to promote healthy teeth and gums.
The importance of children’s dental health can seem pretty simple: healthy teeth and gums mean fewer cavities. Fewer cavities mean less pain, fewer trips to the dentist, and less money spent. You’ve certainly got happy kids and parents in this case as well as a proud dentist. This scenario just scratches the surface, however, of the benefits to children of early oral health.
As much as an adult may miss work because of a dental problem, children without adequate dental care are much more likely to miss school and activities because of a toothache. While some children relish sick days, staying home with severe dental pain while falling behind on classes does little to enhance a child’s quality of life. As some of these children lack any access to adequate dental care, their problems may progress to the point where they risk subsequent health issues elsewhere in their bodies, with their dental problems triggering whole-health problems.
Acknowledging the risk of these whole-health problems, the American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for greater interaction between physicians and dentists particularly on the issue of children’s oral health. It may sound strange to hear that there is a professional chasm between pediatrics and dentistry. The AAP supports initiatives, many of them already occurring, which will begin to bridge this gap. Medical students are learning more about dentistry and, similarly, dental students are learning more about other aspects of of medicine. These two different fields speak nearly different languages in their day-to-day practices but their goals are often similar and their interconnected interests certainly open opportunities for joint efforts in treatment, research, and education.
The AAP is also calling for increases in pediatric dental research as well as collaboration and innovation by all professional participants. There are opportunities to carry their call for professional interaction to arenas like public health, patient education, efficacy of treatment, and policy initiatives that trigger improvements in pediatric dental health.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has similar suggestions that reach children closer to home. While calling for greater research and collaboration among professionals they also suggest promoting oral health in early childhood day-care centers. The AAPD notes that dental care is currently the greatest unmet health need for American children, particularly those from lower-income families. Reaching children through day care centers may be the best opportunity to get them started on dental maintenance. Suggestions include beginning the program at the age of 12 months and keeping records for each child. This early intervention will make the process of dental care more intuitive for children and it allows them to observe their progress and outcomes from an early age. The AAPD also suggests that the schools use a dental professional, preferably a pediatric dentist, to help design and monitor the program. Parents should be engaged and trained as well so that they can continue the child’s dental education and care at home.
These ideas may seem to come early in a child’s life and with a little more intensity than we might like but long-term possibilities for quality of life for children are often affected by the the dental care they receive as kids. In addition, as they learn good dental habits early, they will more likely practice them throughout their lives. Have you noticed fewer denture commercials lately? We have and we’d like to see even fewer as the years go by as people take better care of their teeth.
We’d like to thank the American Dental Association for sponsoring National Children’s Dental Health Month and inspiring us to learn more. Check in with us next week where we’ll learn more about dental education for kids and some best dietary suggestions for healthy teeth.