Our nation’s children: Are we keeping our little ones’ smiles at their best?

One fact is consistent no matter where you live in this country: It can seem like pulling teeth to get your little ones to the dentist’s office! The good news is that many children do indeed get to the dentist despite their protests. In fact, 78 percent of children ages 2 through 17 saw their dentist at least once a year in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While more than three-quarters of our nation’s children have their teeth examined at least once a year, some other statistics remind us we still have a ways to go when it comes to protecting the oral health of all our nation’s children.

  • Among U.S. children ages 6 to 11 and adolescents ages 12 to 19, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease.1 Unfortunately, if cavities are left to fester, they only grow larger and more expensive to fix. Even worse, tooth decay can lead to pain and infections, and can cause problems with speaking, playing and learning.
  • Fewer than one in three children enrolled in Medicaid received at least one preventive dental service in a recent year.1 Fortunately, many school-based oral-health programs are trying to teach children from lower-income households how to properly care for their teeth. Some programs also offer dental sealants, or thin plastic coatings put onto the tops of back teeth to act as barriers against plaque and acids.

How can you help contribute to improving the collective oral health of our nation’s children? That’s simple. It’s all about taking care of your family. Take your child to a dentist regularly. Encourage your kids to eat a balanced diet and limit sugary snacks in between meals. Get them to brush at least twice a day, in the morning and before bedtime, and floss once a day. (And the promise of having done so doesn’t count! Watch them, or brush their teeth for them, until you’re certain they’re brushing properly and thoroughly on their own, usually by the age of 7 or 8.) Help your kids have smiles they’re proud to display. And remember: great oral health starts at home.

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Oral Health: Preventing Dental Caries with Community Programs, 2010.


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