It seems par for the course that new parents interview pediatricians often many months in advance of our little ones arriving. And those wellness check-ups in the first couple years are celebratory events – with calls to grandparents shortly after reporting on all the details like weight, height, how brave they were for their shots. Why shouldn't we? What could be more important than the health of our children? As any parent will tell you: nothing! It is so natural and lovely to celebrate each of these milestones. So, with all this care and attention on our children's health, it concerns me that there is one aspect of their health that seems to fall under the radar in the early years – and that is their oral health.
February is National Children's Dental Health Month, the perfect time to highlight the vital importance that oral health plays in children's overall health and wellness. Establishing routine check-ups with a pediatric dentist by age 1 is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). By doing so, you'll establish a "Dental Home" for your child's oral health and help them avoid the pain and discomfort of cavities. But it's never too late! With my first child we visited the pediatric dentist around age 2. My other three children benefited from lessons learned and all had their first dental check-up by age 1. I think many of us see the dentist as a scary place that we only go to when we have problems. If we treated it more like we treat the pediatrician and started going for well appointments and checkups we could avoid potentially painful problems for our children. If there is something that needs treating, pediatric dentists are specially trained to work with kids. I think parents, me included, don't fully understand how important oral health is and that it's about more than nice straight teeth.
Unfortunately, many parents are not aware that cavities in young children are a big problem. In fact, AAPD's "State of Little Teeth Report" found that tooth decay is the most common chronic infectious disease among children in the U.S. By age 5, about 60 percent of children will have had a cavity. While a cavity may seem like a "minor" issue, tooth pain caused by cavities can have a significant impact on overall health. Tooth decay makes simple activities like eating and speaking difficult, which impedes learning in school and playing with other children. Additionally, children in the U.S. miss a staggering 51 million school hours collectively each year because of dental issues. And, as any parent knows, if we can avoid our little ones being in pain and missing out on vital education, we should do what it takes: regular dental visits and good habits at home.
The good news is that tooth decay is nearly 100 percent avoidable – and it all starts with early oral care and finding a Dental Home. Put in the same effort you did to find the right pediatrician into finding a pediatric dentist for your children. AAPD's website, mychildrensteeth.org, is full of resources, including a pediatric dentist finder to locate one near you. Don't be surprised to find that your children are the ones celebrating a visit to the dentist's office because it involves getting their teeth brushed with chocolate toothpaste with sparkles and leaving with a cool goody bag! Now what's not to love about sparkle toothpaste?! I wish my dentist offered me the same!
Rosie Pope is a mom of 4, maternity and parenting expert, author, and the creative director of Rosie Pope Maternity, Rosie Pope Baby and MomPrep. She is also a contributing editor for Parents.
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