CHICAGO - February is National Children's Dental Health Month, but in children good oral care is critical every day. The first comprehensive study on the nation's oral health released recently by the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General calls dental and oral diseases a "silent epidemic," even in children. The report states that more than 51 million school hours are lost each year to dental-related illness. In fact, a recent study pointed to dental care as the most prevalent unmet health need among American children.
To help counter this, the American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) is launching an effort to educate children and parents about the prevention of dental diseases - including periodontal disease - in children.
"This is important because oral problems can impact self-esteem for children and lead to problems eating, speaking and attending to learning," said Michael McGuire, D.D.S., president of the AAP. Common dental problems seen in children are cavities and gingivitis, which is found in the majority of U.S. children. "When these problems are not caught early and treated, they can develop into more severe problems and cause unnecessary suffering," said McGuire. "However, much of the time, oral problems are avoidable problems."
In the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, a group of more than 120 dentists volunteer to deliver dental care to thousands of low-income children each year with its Mobile Dental Unit that travels from school to school.
"In the Rio Grande Valley, dental disease is the number one cause of absenteeism among elementary school children," said AAP member David Woolweaver, D.D.S., a periodontist and the program director for Dentists Who Care. "It's vitally important that all children see a dentist at an early age. I've found that those children who see a dentist on a regular basis are the ones who take better care of their teeth and gums and don't have the significant problems that I often see in children who haven't seen a dentist previously."
"According to the Surgeon General's Report, about 37 percent of children have not had a dental visit before starting school," said McGuire. "When children don't see dental professionals they miss the opportunity to have problems caught early before they escalate into larger, more expensive problems to treat, and parents miss the opportunity to learn how to promote good oral habits in their children."
In addition to advising regular dental visits that include a periodontal examination, the AAP offers these tips to parents to help ensure good oral health in children:
- Establish good oral health habits early. When your child is 12 months old, you can begin using toothpaste when brushing his or her teeth. However, only use a pea-sized portion on the brush and press it into the bristles so your child won't eat it. And, when the gaps between your child's teeth close, it's important to start flossing.
- Serve as a good role model by practicing good oral health care habits yourself.
- Check your child's mouth for any signs of gum disease, including bleeding gums, swollen and bright red gums, gums that are receding away from the teeth and bad breath.
- Make sure your child consumes a balanced diet. Studies have shown insufficient levels of calcium and vitamin C may make people more susceptible to periodontal disease.
- Educate your child regarding the health risks of using tobacco products. Smoking is the number one preventable risk factor for periodontal disease.
- Call 1-800-FLOSS-EM to request a free brochure that provides instructions to help your children brush and floss properly.
The American Academy of Periodontology is a 7,500-member association of dental professionals specializing in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting the gums and supporting structures of the teeth and in the placement and maintenance of dental implants. Periodontics is one of nine dental specialties recognized by the American Dental Association.
Editor's Note: A video news release on this topic will be distributed on Feb. 1.
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