There is little doubt that following dentist recommendations — brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and visiting a dentist for deep cleaning twice a year — will keep teeth healthy, and could prevent periodontal disease. But too little is said about the oral health of children, particularly children under the age of five.
New studies show that good oral health from infancy lead to a greater chance of stronger, healthier teeth in adulthood. One study looked at the link between dental hygiene and its effect on overall health, and found that patients with gum disease and other dental issues are more likely to Alzheimer’s disease when compared with young patients whose teeth are healthy. The study also indicated that the microorganism, Porphyromonas gingivalis, typically found in the brains of dementia patients, is linked to periodontal disease.
Parents may additionally find it concerning that a Surgeon General report confirmed the impact of oral health on bodily disease and illnesses. Additionally, another study conducted by the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine proved that periodontal disease could lead to a higher risk of stroke and heart attack.
The increasing concern for early dental hygiene habits is exacerbated by a study that shows that children on a Medicaid health program are not receiving the dental care they need. Researchers followed 1,000 children with Medicaid coverage, andinterviewed their caregivers about dental hygiene routines for these children. The two year study showed that only 39% of these children had seen a dentist within the study period, with many of these children seeking dental help solely for an emergency situation.
The problem with this, according to American Academy of Paediatric Dentistry, is that children should pay their initial visit to the dentist as soon as their first tooth emerges, and waiting beyond their first birthday to consult a dentist could lead to future oral health problems. In addition, the director of the Pediatric Dental Center at Miami Children’s Hospital asserts that children can develop cavities as early as nine months old. She explains that that teeth sprout around six months of age and could create dental problems if parents do not begin brushing their children’s teeth from this point on.
“The best thing is to watch their diet, especially when it comes to what they eat or drink before they go to bed,” explains Dr. Thomas Farris, DDS, of Thomas P. Farris, DDS Inc. “Even if it’s just milk, there is sugar that is going to sit on your teeth all night long.”
Parents can also seek help from their primary care physician as well. A program in North Carolina begun by primary care physicians to provide preventative dental health for children, found that the prevalence of missing, decayed or filled teeth in kindergarten students decreased as visits to this program increased. In schools where children were more likely to develop periodontal disease, due to economic factors, the instance of poorly maintained teeth showed an even more substantial decrease.
Researchers are now pointing to caregivers as the crux of the issue, urging them to take their children to see the dentist. Studies indicate that a caregiver with poor dental hygiene is less likely to take their children to the dentist.
In conjunction with regular oral check-ups, dentists recommend that parents teach young toddlers how to brush, introduce them to flossing, and foster this habit during their preschool and kindergarten years. These routines could be the key to preventing future oral health problems.