According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay is the number one chronic infectious disease among children in the U.S., posing an immediate and long-term threat to the teeth of young children and to their overall health and development.
“Poor oral health can have a tremendous negative impact on a child’s quality of life and ability to succeed,” said Dr. Warren A. Brill, a Baltimore pediatric dentist and AAPD president. “And, pain and infections caused by untreated tooth decay can lead to difficulty chewing food and speaking, as well as tooth discoloration and even tooth loss. The foundation for life-long healthy teeth is for kids to have the first dental checkup no later than their first birthday, because infants with tooth decay are far more likely to develop oral health issues as they grow up.”
While tooth decay is mostly preventable, many parents and caregivers simply are unaware how to best help their children fight it. According to a new survey by the AAPD, the majority of parents and caregivers (53 percent) were not aware of the unique expertise of pediatric dentists, who receive two to three years of specialized training beyond dental school in areas such as addressing anxiety related to dental visits that some children have, taking care of children with special health care needs, and tailoring treatment that may be needed to the specific emotional and dental needs of children. Not surprisingly, when parents and caregivers were educated about this additional training, they were nearly unanimous (98 percent) in their likelihood to seek out a pediatric dentist for their child.
Additionally, only nine percent of those surveyed had knowledge of the concept that is the foundation for a child’s oral health care and vital for their overall well-being, the Dental Home. A Dental Home is an ongoing relationship with a primary dental care provider and patient in which oral health care is delivered in a comprehensive, continuously accessible and family-centered manner. Once given an understanding, the concept resonates well: 94 percent of parents and caregivers found it appealing, and 89 percent stated that they are likely to take their child to a pediatric dentist.
To encourage parents and caregivers to join the Monster-Free Mouths Movement, the AAPD is teaming up with popular parenting expert and author Rosie Pope, an experienced mom of three who is expecting her fourth child in March.
“Like any parent, I want what is best for my children, especially when it comes to their health,” said Pope. “And helping kids set up healthy teeth habits early, starting with the first dental check-up no later than age 1, leads to good oral health in the long-term. I’m excited to be a part of AAPD’s Monster-Free Mouths Movement, creating much-needed awareness about how to keep little teeth healthy.”
Parents and caregivers can go to mychildrensteeth.org to find tips and tools to teach their children about their teeth in a fun way, including the whimsical Mouth Monsters characters – Tartar the Terrible, Tooth D.K. and Ginger Bite-Us. The site also provides educational resources and guidance geared to help parents and caregivers better understand the importance of children’s oral health, as well as a pediatric dentist finder tool to locate a nearby primary dental care provider for their child.
State of Little Teeth Report
In addition to launching the Monster-Free Mouths Movement, the AAPD today issued the “State of Little Teeth Report” to provide an in-depth look at the current crisis state of children’s oral health in America. Select key findings of the report, which is available for download on mychildrensteeth.org, include:
Early childhood tooth decay is dangerous and on the rise. A rapid form of tooth decay among very young children called early childhood caries (ECC) is the most common disease faced by children, and it’s on the rise. Research shows ECC can cause lasting harm to the child’s oral and general health, and social and intellectual development.
Early dental visits strongly recommended, rarely made.Despite a strong consensus among experts that babies see a dentist in their first year of life, only a fraction of parents bring their children this early. Among parents and caregivers that AAPD surveyed, 60 percent are aware of this recommendation but only 25 percent follow through. This may be, in part, because research shows many pediatricians and general dentists fail to reinforce this recommendation.
A shortage of dentists skilled in treating children.Overall, there are too few dentists willing and able to treat young children, especially those covered by Medicaid, who have barriers finding care. Among the AAPD’s solutions for this problem are: improving reimbursement rates and reducing administrative burden to attract more dentists to participate in Medicaid; using Expanded Function Dental Assistants to help dental offices better serve more patients; and increasing the number of pediatric dentists. This is especially important as pediatric oral health care is a mandated service in the Affordable Care Act, which when it is fully functioning is estimated to result in an increase of as many as 3 million more children enrolled in Medicaid.
There is a need to expand pediatric dental education.Providing dental care for young children, especially those with special needs, requires special training. As a result, there is a need for expanding dental education to produce more pediatric dentists and more general dentists with the knowledge, skills and willingness to treat children.
Other Survey Findings
Among those surveyed, first-time parents and caregivers are less likely to take their child to see a dentist (45 percent) versus experienced, with two or more kids with one child under age 5 (17 percent.) The survey also found:
The experienced parents and caregivers surveyed are more likely to take their child to see a pediatric dentist (48 percent) than first-time parents (34 percent).
Parents and caregivers surveyed may need to be reminded about certain habits that could be detrimental to their child’s oral health:
Nearly 1 in 5 parents and caregivers indicated that they had put their child to bed with a bottle of milk or juice, which increases the risk of early childhood caries, or baby bottle tooth decay, as well as choking.
A full 38 percent responded that they allow their toddler to brush without supervision, which is not recommended until a child is 7 to 8 years old.
This survey was designed and conducted by KRC Research on behalf of the AAPD. The 10-minute online survey was conducted between Oct.1-7, 2013 among 1,000 parents in the U.S. with children ages 5 or younger. To qualify for this survey, respondents had to be either the sole or shared decision maker for healthcare-related decisions for their child or children.