Parenting is hard. It is, at times, exhausting. Even long after the sleepless nights of infancy are gone, there is plenty to worry about. Is he eating too much junk, getting enough exercise, too much screen time? When does she need to be to soccer practice? Did she get her homework done? Is she being bullied at school? And that’s only the tip of the ice burgh. It’s no wonder that many parents can’t muster the energy to make their child brush twice each day. And floss? Forget about it! After all, is it worth the fight for baby teeth that are only going to fall out anyway? Besides, cavities are a normal part of childhood, right?
Cavities are common, but they are not normal. The common cold is also, well… common, yet parents will go to extremes to keep their child from getting sick. Much like the common cold is an infection of the respiratory system caused by germs, cavities are an infection in the mouth caused by germs. And both are preventable. Unlike the common cold, cavities don’t go away mostly on their own, often quickly escalate into a more serious problem, and can be expensive to treat. The lifetime cost can reach more than $2,000–money that can be saved by merely brushing for two minutes, two times each day. (That’s four minutes total, five if they floss.)
So why do 27% of children in the United States have an acute oral health need? And why have one in seven kids experienced a toothache in the previous six months?
One reason is that caregivers believe the myth that primary (baby) teeth don’t really matter, that they’ll simply fall out taking the cavity with them. But more likely the cavity will dissolve the tooth until it reaches the nerves deep within, causing extreme pain, lost sleep, and difficulty eating and concentrating at school. “The truth is, dental disease is excruciating,” Dr. Betty Orr, a dental educator and private practice dentist from Charlotte, North Carolina told us. “How does preventive care impact children’s lives? The simple answer is it reduces their suffering. The bigger answer is that it helps them learn better, fear less and love more.”
In addition, losing baby teeth before their time effects speech development and alignment of the permanent teeth that replace them. Depending on the severity of the infection, damage from the cavity can cause bone loss and more expensive repairs down the road. Even if the decaying tooth falls out on its own, the germs that caused the cavity are still present and infecting the other teeth–including the permanent tooth that takes its place. Those germs can spread to the bloodstream as well, contributing to serious health issues later in life, like heart disease, diabetes, stroke and even some forms of cancer.
A 2015 survey revealed that 41% of parents believed brushing should start at the age of three. The truth is preventing cavities begins at birth and teaching children to brush twice daily as soon as their first tooth erupts instills healthy habits that will continue when they have a mouth full of permanent teeth. While poor oral health can lead to gum disease, tooth loss and poor overall health throughout their life, a healthy smile impacts a child’s self-esteem and future career success. CNBC reported that most employers “make instant judgements based on appearance, including someone’s smile and teeth.” Another study found that people with missing front teeth were viewed as less intelligent, less desirable and less trustworthy.
“Preventive care helps children focus on what’s good, on what’s happy, to relax, and to become all that they can be,” Dr. Orr added. Indeed, proper oral hygiene habits and a clean mouth are what all parents should accept as normal, instead of decaying teeth. For oral care tips for the whole family, click here.