The first Monday of October is observed as National Child Health Day in the United States. First established in 1928, the day is used to showcase the importance of preventing and treating childhood illnesses and injuries. Here at the Dental Health Society, we see National Child Health Day as the perfect opportunity to remind parents that dental health plays a key role in overall physical health and wellness.
The Dental Health/General Health Connection
Poor oral care is shockingly widespread. According to the CDC, dental caries, more commonly known as tooth decay or cavities, are one of the most common chronic diseases in children. In kids aged 5 to 11, 20% have at least one untreated cavity. For those 12 to 19 years old, it’s 13%. And it’s not just about having a pretty smile. Dental problems can contribute to general health problems in kids.
A healthy diet is the foundation of much of childhood health. Problems from malnourishment to obesity result from not having enough food or the right foods to eat. There is a link to poor oral health too.
Dental pain caused by untreated cavities can a child to have trouble chewing. This can result in not getting the necessary nutrients they need to thrive and grow. On the flip side, children who consume a lot of sugary snacks and soda are more prone to tooth decay. Failure to clean the teeth properly compounds the problem.
A child with a toothache or gum pain won’t sleep well. Sound sleep is as important to children as exercise when it comes to their health. Lack of adequate rest has even been shown to increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Keeping kids cavity-free can keep them pain-free. Practicing good brushing and flossing habits can prevent tooth decay. When a kid has a cavity, it’s important to get it fixed as soon as possible.
It’s natural for baby teeth to fall out and be replaced by permanent teeth. But sometimes they might be missing too soon. A child’s teeth might fall out due to serious decay. Or they could get knocked out accidentally.
Missing teeth can cause a number of problems and shouldn’t be ignored if a permanent tooth is still a long way off. In addition to making it hard to eat, missing teeth can cause difficulty in kids’ speech development. It may cause the remaining teeth to move and crowd into the open space, causing alignment issues. If decay is the issue, neighboring teeth can be at risk too. It is best to see a dentist for advice and treatment.
Healthy teeth and gums contribute to a child’s overall physical wellbeing and their ability to grow, learn, and thrive.
The pain of tooth and gum problems, along with the lack of good nutrition and sleep that it causes, has a negative impact on a child’s ability to concentrate and learn. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that children with untreated tooth decay miss more days of school and have lower grades than other kids.
In addition, children who suffer from impaired speech, or missing or damaged teeth might suffer from bullying or low self-esteem.
Neglecting dental health and hygiene in childhood can mean an increased chance of a host of medical issues in the future. Poor oral health has been linked to sinus issues, heart disease, stroke, and even Alzheimer’s disease in later years.
Physical Illness’s Impact on Dental Health
Just as dental health impacts physical health, the reverse is true too. Children who have medical conditions or compromised immune systems are more prone to dental disease. Certain medications can alter saliva and its ability to naturally maintain mouth health. Tetracycline and iron supplements can stain teeth. And prolonged illnesses can hamper a child’s ability to brush and floss regularly. All of these can increase the risk of tooth decay or gum disease.
Good Dental Habits at Home
This National Child Health Day, join us in making a commitment to children’s health! You don’t have to be a doctor or an advocate for children’s health to make a difference; good oral health starts at home.
- Even before a baby’s arrival, good oral health matters. For example, pregnant moms with gum disease are at a greater risk of having a premature delivery or a baby with low birth weight. And mouth care should start much earlier after birth than many people realize.
- Even before any teeth appear, parents should clean their baby’s gums with a soft cloth every day. Healthy, clean gums will provide the best environment for baby teeth to grow.
- And even though they eventually fall out, baby teeth are very important. They allow an infant to learn to chew and talk. They can get cavities and need treatment just like permanent teeth. As soon as the first teeth come in, parents should start a brushing routine. This will keep them clean and also establish the important habit of twice-a-day brushing.
Dentist Visits for Kids
Baby teeth usually start to show up when a child is about six months old. Their first trip to the dentist should happen within six months of that—or around their first birthday. Even if parents are taking good care of their infant’s teeth and gums, dental checkups are important.
Dentists are equipped to spot decay before a parent would notice. They can also keep an eye on any developmental issues with the teeth and offer advice on topics like thumb sucking. As the child grows, the dentist will be able to offer solutions like dental sealants for cavity-prone kids, or braces to correct alignment issues.
There are several options when it comes to dental care for kids. Pediatric dentists specialize in caring exclusively for little ones. Family dentists treat children as well as the rest of the family. You can use our online search tool to find a dentist that’s right for your child.
No matter the choice, it’s important to make dental checkups part of a child’s routine. Regular dental visits will prepare a child for life-long dental health.