February is National Children’s Dental Health Month and together with the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) I’m working to raise awareness in the fight against childhood tooth decay, a top chronic infectious disease among children – more common than asthma and childhood obesity. In fact, about half of children in the U.S. are affected by tooth decay by the time they enter school leading to over 34 million school hours lost each year due to dental problems. But, as I tell my young patients, it is entirely preventable.
I know parents of children with special needs face a unique challenge in that their children are at an even higher risk of developing oral health conditions. According to a study, 81 percent of children with special health care needs require some kind of preventive dental care. In addition, dental care remains the most frequently cited unmet health need for children with special health care needs. I can tell you, at my practice, special need patients represent approximately 25 percent of our pediatric dental caseload.
I treat special needs children each week and maintaining good oral hygiene can become difficult due to a variety of reasons such as accompanying health issues or poor dexterity. That said, in partnership with your pediatric dentist, parents can work to develop a dental home to ensure lifelong positive oral health habits.
The most important thing I tell all my patient families is with proper oral hygiene, tooth decay can be prevented and even reversed. Baby teeth are vulnerable to decay from their very first appearance, so be sure to brush your child’s teeth for two minutes two times a day, and floss as soon as the teeth start touching.
Another important step in childhood oral health is establishing a dental home. A dental home is an ongoing relationship between a pediatric dentist, like me, and a patient family and includes all aspects of oral health care delivered in an easily accessible and family-centered way. You should find your dental home no later than your child’s first birthday or when their first tooth appears. Finding the right dental home will ensure you are setting your children up for a lifetime of positive oral health habits.
I invite you to check out https://mouthmonsters.mychildrensteeth.org/ for more information and resources to help protect those little smiles.
Dr. Kevin Donly