February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, and the California Dental Association encourages parents and caregivers to practice good oral health habits with their children and keep up to date with their dental care, which may have been deferred by the pandemic. Assemblymember Akilah Weber, MD, (D-La Mesa), has also authored a resolution declaring Children’s Dental Health Month in California to highlight the importance of oral health care as well as recent investments in the state’s oral health infrastructure.
“Parents and caregivers can help children prevent oral diseases by establishing a dental hygiene routine at an early age, which is essential to maintaining good oral health throughout their lifetime,” said CDA President John Blake, DDS. “We thank Dr. Weber for authoring this resolution and helping draw attention to children’s dental health. We also commend the state for its increased commitment to oral health access and, with deferral in dental care caused by the pandemic, now it’s important to reinforce early preventive care, especially for children.”
In recent years, California has made significant investments to improve the state’s oral health infrastructure, establishing the State Office of Oral Health, increasing preventive dental services and improving dental health for children enrolled in Medi-Cal. The investments in the Medi-Cal Dental Program have resulted in a 25% increase in providers since 2017, a rate that is consistently increasing each year. Additionally, the number of patients utilizing Medi-Cal dental services has doubled since the Great Recession.
CDA is partnering in this effort with the California Society of Pediatric Dentistry. CSPD President Thomas Tanbonliong, DDS, added, “Developing good habits at an early age and scheduling regular dental visits helps children get a start to a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. Children’s Dental Health Month is a great opportunity to recognize the important progress the state has recently made, while raising awareness about the work that remains and the essential role oral health plays in children’s overall health.”
Nationwide, tooth decay is the No. 1 chronic infectious disease among children, although it is largely preventable. In California, 61% of third graders have experienced tooth decay and 22% have untreated tooth decay. Disparities related to race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status exist with 72% of Latino and 72% of disadvantaged children experiencing some form of tooth decay. When left untreated, cavities can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing and learning. California children miss approximately 874,000 days of school each year due to dental problems.
Start at an early age to keep children’s oral health intact: Provide each family member with their own toothbrush, spoon, fork or cup because cavity-causing bacteria pass through the transfer of saliva; wipe infants’ gums twice a day with a washcloth; clean pacifiers and bottles with soap and water, not spit; put only water in a baby’s bottle at bedtime; and help children brush and floss until they have mastered the skill – usually around age 7.
To help keep teeth and gums healthy for a lifetime, brush for two minutes, twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, floss daily and visit a dentist for regular checkups. Prevent tooth decay by avoiding sugary food and drinks like soda, limiting between-meal snacks and drinking plenty of water, especially after meals.
For more information, visit cda.org.