February is Children’s Dental Health Month. In my dental practice I routinely see children coming to my office with widespread tooth decay and abscesses. Unfortunately, dental cavities are one of the most common chronic diseases in children and teens. Many people don’t realize that poor oral health negatively impacts a child’s school performance and their overall health.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry advises that children should see a dentist when they get their first tooth and not later than 1 year of age. The goal is to prevent tooth decay, yet many people wait until a child develops dental problems before they schedule their child’s first dental appointment. This makes the first dental visit scarier and potentially painful. If a child has routine dental care from their first year on, it is possible to prevent nearly all tooth decay.

Another way to prevent cavities in young children is to improve a mother’s oral health. Good dental care can lower the risk that a woman could possibly infect her children with cavity causing bacteria. It is unfortunate but children who have mothers with high levels of untreated cavities or tooth loss are more than 3 times more likely to have cavities as a child. (CDC.gov)

Changing hormones during pregnancy may also contribute to a surprising number of pregnant women, (nearly 60 to 75% according to the CDC.gov) having gingivitis, an early stage of periodontal disease that occurs when the gums become red and swollen from inflammation. Periodontitis has been associated with poor pregnancy outcomes, including preterm birth and low birth weight. I encourage all pregnant women to visit a dentist.

During Children’s Dental Health Month, I would like to emphasize two important things that we can do to improve the oral health of children. First, it is important for all pregnant women to visit a dentist for their own health and the health of their children. Second, all children should be seen by a dentist by their first birthday as this launches them on a course of good oral health.

Good oral health impacts our ability to speak, smile, eat, and show emotions. It also affects self-esteem, and attendance at work and school. Good dental care is an important investment in the overall health and wellbeing of a child.

Almost every day I see a child and wish I could have seen him or her sooner to help prevent the pain of tooth decay. I understand dental care is expensive, and many people do not have dental insurance. However, there are options available. The first dental visit by the age of one is covered by Ohio Medicaid and most insurances. Ohio Hills Health Services offers a sliding fee scale program based on income and accepts Medicaid at both our Barnesville and Freeport locations. So, let us all celebrate Children’s Dental Health Month by ensuring that area children receive the dental care they need and deserve.

Dr. Amber Bauer

Dental Director, Ohio Hills Health Services