Children's Dental Health Care Begins Early
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) is an organization representing the specialty of pediatric dentistry. The group advocates policies, guidelines, and programs that promote optimal oral health care for children beginning in infancy. For National Children’s Dental Health Month, the organization reminds parents that dental health starts early, even before children reach one year of age.
More than 40 percent of children have tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten. And studies show that early tooth decay often leads to more problems with permanent adult teeth. “If a child experiences tooth decay at an early age, it is a very difficult process to stop,” says Paul Casamassimo DDS MS, the chief of Dentistry at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Dr. Casamassimo supports the revised guidelines of the AAPD that recommend that children have their initial dental visit between 6 and 12 months of age. “Taking a proactive approach to infant oral care can make a difference that will last a lifetime,” he says.
The first dental visit of a child’s life establishes the relationship between the family and dental team. At this appointment, parents can expect to meet with both the dental hygienist and the dentist. They will examine the oral structure of the toddler’s mouth while also introducing him or her to the feeling of a toothbrush. Afterward, parents will learn about dental and oral development, fluoride adequacy, teething, non-nutritive habits, injury prevention, dietary information and oral hygiene instructions.
While some parents may delay oral health appointments until a child is older, the AAPD emphasizes that dental care is “medically necessary to prevent and eliminate orofacial disease, infection and pain.” A child’s teeth are at risk for decay as soon as they first appear. Undiagnosed and untreated oral conditions may interfere with a child’s ability to eat, sleep or function well at home or at school. Dental caries and dental malocclusion may compromise a child’s self-esteem and social development.
One of the earliest causes of dental caries is the baby bottle. This typically causes decay in the upper front teeth first. Prolonged exposure to any sugary liquid, including fruit juice, can cause bacteria to multiply leading to decay. Dentists recommend that toddlers begin drinking from a cup no later than one year of age.
Other tips for parents include: