By Dr. Susan Bordenave Bishop, D.M.D, Director of Dental Services, Peoria City/County Health Department
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. During this time, dentists in Peoria and across the United States bring awareness to dental and oral healthcare for children. Neglecting dental care can lead to health concerns which can start at an early age and extend through adulthood. Among the factors leading to dental and health issues for children are unhealthy eating choices, an increasing consumption of sugar, and the rise in obesity rates. All these factors can affect a child’s dental health and the whole person—it’s more than just about teeth.
Early childhood caries, or tooth decay, in children under age 5 is now occurring at a high rate similar to 20 years ago. Tooth decay—better known as cavities—can occur at any age but occurs at a faster and more destructive rate in “baby teeth” because the enamel is much thinner than a permanent tooth. Baby teeth may last about six years, so keeping baby teeth healthy during that time is important. Decay can start early and in six months, the crown, or top portion of a baby tooth, can be destroyed by decay if subjected to repeated doses of sugar or if there is limited daily tooth/gum brushing, or no fluoride in the child’s tooth paste or water supply. Cavities in baby teeth can cause pain and abscesses, and once the cavities become large, treatment is very difficult for young children—sometimes requiring specialized pediatric dental care with waiting lists of months.
Unhealthy eating choices, including sugary drinks, that lead to tooth decay can also affect overall health, sometimes leading to obesity and an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Due to an increase of sugar consumption among young children, type 2 diabetes has become a growing concern—since diabetes can be a risk for nerve damage, kidney disease, and heart disease. A study funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found “if incidence rates remain unchanged over the next decades, the number of young people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes would rise 12 percent.” This alarming statement has prompted dental professionals to take a more active role in a child’s overall health through prevention measures.
The good news is that preventative measures can have a positive effect on dental health and health as a whole. Back to basics oral health early in life can lead to healthy choices as adults. Oral health should include these activities:
- Encourage new moms to breastfeed their infants.
- Lightly brush baby teeth and wipe baby’s gums.
- Get it Done by Age 1—get all children into a dentist by age one for a thorough oral health exam.
- Brush 2 minutes, 2 times a day—for children and adults.
- Promote healthy eating options of fruits and vegetables at meals.
- Rethink Your Drink—stay away from sugary drinks and juice—offer water as a choice.
- All children should see a dentist regularly.
- Children should participate in local dental sealant programs.
Peoria dental health professionals and the American Dental Association have participated in additional dental health promotion since the beginning of Dental Health Month twenty years ago. This year on Friday, February 3, 2023, The American Dental Association (ADA) and its state and local associations will be hosting Give Kids A Smile Day (GKAS). Members of the Peoria District Dental Society will be providing dental care, prevention, and education at the East Peoria Head Start. Dental care which cannot be completed in one day will be done throughout the year for children. Families unable to afford dental care may be eligible for no-cost dental care through the state dental insurance program. Contact your child’s healthcare provider, dentist, or the Peoria City/County Health Department at 309-679-6141 or www.pcchd.org to learn more.