If your doctor told you “Your child has an infection that, if left untreated, could be fatal” what would you do?
Here’s a scary thought: according to recent data, as many as 8 million kids are currently living with untreated infections that could develop into a life-threatening condition called a periapical abscess. How does a periapical abscess start?
As a cavity.
Are we being overly dramatic to suggest that a child could die from tooth decay? Although it’s rare, it has happened. And, according to a recent nine-year study, periapical abscesses lead to the hospitalization of 61,000 people and 66 deaths, making it less rare than we previously thought. It turns out, tooth decay is a much more serious problem than most people believe, leading to more than 830,000 emergency room visits at hospitals that are not equipped to handle such cases.
It’s only a baby tooth.
Although they’re largely preventable, cavities are such a common problem for kids that it seems most adults believe they are normal and not worth the hassle to treat, especially when they’re present in primary teeth that will eventually fall out. The problem is, when choosing to delay treatment, parents gamble with the overall health of their child. They only view the cavity as a threat to an individual tooth, instead of an infection that will eventually reach their child’s soft tissue, bloodstream, and major organs, including the brain. This infectious spread is what makes abscesses so painful, dangerous and expensive.
Of course, misconceptions about the dangers of tooth decay influence more than the oral health choices of ill-informed parents. Government policy makers don’t always make choices that serve the best interest of low-income children who are twice as likely to have tooth decay. As a result, families on medical assistance simply can’t find a dentist who will treat them because reimbursement rates are so low dental offices can’t break even.
So, what can be done? In addition to pushing for Medicaid reform that keeps pace with the cost of providing quality care, there are several meaningful ways to improve the dental health and overall health of American kids.
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