The most common chronic disease children face may surprise you, and it hasn’t changed much over the years. Tooth decay effects children at alarming rates and is, in fact, the most common chronic disease faced by children aged six to 19 years old. One of the most concerning parts is that it’s largely preventable.
Every year, children miss 51 million school hours because of dental illnesses, according to the Surgeon General. The most important weapon in the fight against childhood tooth decay is sealants, says Dr. John Pappas, Phoenix area family dentist.
“Not only are sealants highly effective in regards to preventing tooth decay and cavities, but they can also stop the progression of cavities that already exist,” Pappas said. “Preventative care such as good oral hygiene and sealants not only keep children healthy, they also save parents from the long-term costs associated with tooth decay. If left untreated, children can experience extensive damage, even to their underlying permanent teeth, that can lead to years of expensive and even painful treatments.”
Studies have found that children with sealants are 80% less likely to develop cavities especially in the uneven surfaces of molars. Fluoride varnishes are a great aid in this process and can help prevent about 30% of decay, but shouldn’t be a replacement for sealants. One study showed that those who received sealants were still 73% less likely to develop cavities than those who received only fluoride varnishes.
Another breakthrough that has been helping children fight tooth decay for years is the fluoridation of water. In fact, the CDC named it one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the 20th century as it has helped reduce the amount of childhood tooth decay by 18-40%.
While professional dental care and preventative treatments play a huge role in preventing childhood cavities, the core of oral care begins at home.
“Oral hygiene includes the normal brushing and flossing twice a day, but it also means eating balanced and healthy diets,” Pappas said. “The amount of sugar found in every common, popular snack and drink (that isn’t water) on the market right now, means that children’s mouths are constantly fighting to stay healthy and It’s no wonder that it’s such a problem for them.”
It can be hard to get kids to brush and floss twice a day, every day enthusiastically. Children under ten still need the help and guidance of a caregiver to oversee their oral hygiene routine and encourage them to form healthy habits at this formative stage in their lives. Finding fun ways to engage in oral care is easier than ever thanks to the internet and our instant access to more information than we can even fathom. There are many videos, books and even games that help children learn about the importance of taking good care of their teeth. New products hit the shelves almost every day that aims to make brushing teeth fun. Brushes with music, lights, accompanying apps, customizable designs all try to encourage kids to make positive associations with their oral hygiene routine.
Fighting childhood tooth decay is the key to unlocking a healthier and happier future. Encouraging friends and family to tap into resources designed to help educate and inform them can be a great first step in helping make the world a better place for all.