Dental Care for Kids Needs to Begin With Baby Teeth, Study Shows

Filed under: Research Reveals: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Health

dentist picture

Open wide, little one! Credit: Getty

It may seem painfully obvious, but a new study shows preventative dental care for kids and regular brushing can reduce the risk of cavities.

What makes this study out of the University of North Carolina "new" is that it looks at dental hygiene among poor kids. Turns out, brushing, flossing and seeing the dentist could really help them reduce cavities.

Reuters news service reports that 11 percent of American 2-year-olds and 44 percent of 5-year-olds have cavities. The majority of these kids come from low-income families who can't afford regular dental care.

And regular dental care helps prevent cavities.

The findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, cite a program called "Into the Mouths of Babes." For the past 11 years, pediatricians and family doctors in North Carolina have given fluoride and dental exams to babies and toddlers covered by Medicaid.

Looking at results from between 2000 and 2006, Reuters reports, researchers estimate children covered by Medicaid who had at least four dental exams were 17 percent less likely to have cavities than kids who had no care at all.

"This speaks to the fact that prevention does work," Dr. Mary J. Hayes, a pediatric dentist in Chicago and spokeswoman for the American Dental Association, tells the news service.

Apparently, this has been the source of some controversy. Hayes tells Reuters some people think kids don't need to see a dentist until they are 3. But tooth decay can begin as soon as there are teeth, she says.

And the sins of the baby teeth are visited upon the permanent ones, she adds.

"Now we know that prevention needs to begin when the first teeth come in," Hayes tells Reuters.

Reuters reports it's a good idea to take children to see a dentist before their first birthdays. Good luck with that. The news service also reports that pediatric dentists are scarce, and few general dentists are trained to treat very young children.

And trying to find any dentist that accepts Medicaid is a toothache. In North Carolina, according to Reuters, only a fourth of dentists accept Medicaid.

Hayes tells Reuters that's why pediatricians and family doctors are important.

"We should involve the medical community," she tells the news service. "It makes sense that pediatricians be trained to look at the teeth."

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.