While entirely preventable, dental caries remains the most prevalent non-communicable disease in children, both in the United States and worldwide. Given the serious potential consequences for the many children affected, we highlight why dental caries prevention is an urgent priority for dental professionals.
In the U.S. today, 45.8% of children aged 2-19 years old are estimated to have dental caries, both treated and untreated. To put this into context compared to some other conditions and diseases affecting children:
These are among the most common chronic childhood health conditions, and yet none come close to dental caries in terms of prevalence. When taken together with the potential consequences of dental caries, this paints a disturbing picture for our young patients.
In addition to causing children significant pain and distress, dental caries can be extremely detrimental to their physical health, emotional wellbeing, and social development. In a survey that included 1,800 parents in the U.S., Colgate found that 62% of children were suffering from dental caries. Those children reported feeling:
Unable to smile freely (27%)
Unable to concentrate (20%)
Nearly half of the affected children were reported to have missed school due to dental pain or treatment, hindering their education and development. What's more, due to the physical and emotional discomfort that caries causes them, between a quarter and a third of children missed out on experiences like parties, play time, sports, and family events. Childhood dental caries takes a toll on parents, too. In response to their children’s oral health problems, parents experience worry and anxiety, as well as feelings of sadness, shame, failure and/or embarrassment. More than half of parents reported taking time off work due to their children’s dental caries.
A preventative approach is the single most effective way to protect children, their families, and their communities from the burden of dental caries. The following steps can help.
1. Encourage regular check-ups
Unfortunately, the early stages of dental caries are asymptomatic and invisible to parents and caregivers. For that reason, we must double down on our efforts to encourage frequent dental check-ups so that we may evaluate a child's oral health status and provide appropriate interventions.
2. Educate parents and caregivers
Parents and caregivers will play a major role in their child’s home oral care and dietary habits, so educate them on the importance of these behaviors and provide them with advice and strategies to reinforce them. It may help to refer them to resources like those of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
3. Educate kids
Involve children in the oral health conversation and help them to understand the reasoning behind healthy behaviors like brushing. Colgate’s Bright Smiles, Bright Futures features a wide variety of resources tailored to children of all ages, such as story books, videos, coloring sheets, activities, and posters. You’ll also find lots of resources for parents, educators and dental health colleagues.
4. Advise on home use products
Recommend the best products to help parents support their child’s oral health. Colgate Kids Cavity Protection Toothpaste is specially formulated for children and features a kid-friendly bubble fruit flavor. Another option is Colgate Total which is suitable for all ages, contains stannous fluoride and is a multi-benefit toothpaste. When indicated, Phos-Flur rinse can be recommended once daily for use following brushing with fluoride toothpaste, for patients ages 6 and over. It should be rinsed with for 1 minutes and then expectorated, and has been shown to help promote remineralization, strengthen teeth and help reduce white spot lesions. It is not recommended for patients under age 6.
Children may find brushing more enjoyable with “smart” app-connected toothbrushes like the Colgate hum, or with fun manual toothbrushes that feature bright colors or favorite characters like the Colgate Kids Toothbrush (available for ages 0-2, 2+ and 5+ years).
5. Taking additional steps in the office
Finally, for children at risk for dental caries, 5% sodium fluoride varnish is recommended by the American Dental Association for use (off-label) two to four times per year depending on risk level. Colgate PreviDent Varnish is a 5% sodium fluoride varnish that is available in a variety of flavors.
Ultimately, dental caries is preventable. As dental professionals we can encourage and educate patients and parents, provide recommendations for care and home use, and help our young patients towards a cavity-free future.