News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Child Dental Care Up; Racial Gap Gone
Far more U.S. children are visiting dentists now than 50 years ago, surveys show. And a racial gap in dental care has disappeared, a new study finds. The study looked data from 5 health surveys. The first survey was taken in 1964. Then, 48% of children had visited a dentist in the last 12 months. That included 20% of African-American children and 52% of white children. By 2010, the last survey, 78% of children had a recent dental visit. The percentage was the same for both races. The journal Pediatrics published the study July 2.
By Henry H. Bernstein, D.O.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
It's time to go to bed. Did you brush your teeth? When I was growing up, thats what my mom would ask me before I went to sleep. Many mothers ask their kids the very same question every night.
But not all children have received the same amount of professional dental care over the years. Indeed, there have been big differences between African-American and white children in who gets dental services.
The good news is that there have been real improvements overall in children's dental care since 1964. Plus, these racial differences are much, much less now.
A study just published in the journal Pediatrics shows these changes. It also shows that national health policies, such as Medicaid, have had a big impact.
Researchers looked at data about children aged 2 to 17 years from the United States National Health Interview Survey. They compared information about dental visits collected over nearly 50 years. The last survey was in 2010.
Here's what the surveys showed:
- In 1964, not quite half of U.S. children (48%) had visited a dentist in the last year. By 2010, about 78% had an annual dental visit.
- The percentage of all children who have never visited a dentist has gone down by two-thirds (34% to 11%).
There was even better news about the big differences between African-American and white children in the use of dental services. By 2010, the gap had disappeared.
Government programs have played key roles in expanding access to dental care for all children. Public insurance coverage for both African-American and white children has increased dramatically during the last 50 years.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
It is recommended that children visit the dentist for the first time when their first tooth comes in. This is usually between 6 and 12 months of age. Visiting the dentist at such a young age helps to start good dental habits and keep teeth healthy.
Tooth decay affects children in the United States more than any other disease. It's even more common than asthma. Tooth decay is also known as dental cavities or caries.
Sadly, as many as 4 out of 10 children still have tooth decay by the time they start kindergarten. Tooth decay leads to problems. It can get in the way of a child's daily routine.
Here are some things you can do to keep teeth healthy:
- Eat a healthy diet. The risk of tooth decay is much higher when children eat sweets frequently.
- Take care of the teeth. Children should brush their teeth at least twice each day, with the help of a parent. Flossing should begin as soon as a child's teeth are right next to each other in the mouth.
- Prevent dental injury. Children should wear the right mouth guards when playing sports. Sharp corners of furniture should be covered in order to prevent mouth injury, too.
- Use fluoride. Dentists can put fluoride on the outside of teeth. Children also can take fluoride in drops or pills, if needed. Putting fluoride in the water we drink is the cheapest and most effective way to prevent tooth decay in communities.
Speak with your pediatrician about any dental concerns you have. Ask the doctor questions about your child's oral health and habits. The doctor will be able to answer many of your questions.
Doctors can work with you to make an oral health plan that works for your children and family. They can also help you find a dentist in your area so your children can have regular dental checkups.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
More will need to be done in the future to ensure that all children get the right dental care throughout childhood. This means receiving complete dental care that matches each child's dental needs.
Parents, dentists and doctors must work together to make sure all families know how to prevent tooth decay in children.
Doctors will learn to better identify dental cavities. They must be well informed about good nutrition and oral health prevention routines, such as brushing and flossing.