When was the last time you went to the dentist? Ummm...was it when you lived with your parents? Consider yourself lucky if that’s the case.
Tooth decay is the single most common childhood disease, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Especially during recession, families increasingly cut back on “unnecessary” expenses. In 2009, the American Heart Association survey found approximately one third of respondents were cutting back on health treatment that cound have negative consequences, from not taking medication to skipping dental appointments entirely.
Unfortunately, many children fall victim to this trend, with negative results. One in four children ages 3 to 5 years old living in poverty had untreated dental caries (cavities that have not received treatment), according to the 2009-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. For children ages 6 to 9 years old, 17 percent had untreated cavities.
The trend hasn’t stabilized with the recovering economy. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 18 percent of children ages 2 to 17 years old haven’t had a dental visit in the past year.
In an effort to combat these socioeconomic disparties, this week more than 50 pediatric dental volunteers gave 100 children free dental care at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine as a part of the second annual Dental Home Day, a collaboration between Healthy Smiles, Health Children, and the Foundation of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). The AAPD is kicking off its annual session in Boston this week.
The children were chosen out of a pool of applicants whose families applied through the dental school’s local media campaign. The recipients received cleanings, check-ups, and restorative work as a part of the event, and because of a $30,000 grant, will continue to receive free dental care for the coming year.
Tufts dental school and Healthy Smiles are working to find local pediatric dentists for more extensive cases that could provide free or low-cost care, according to Paul Amundsen, development director at Health Smiles, Healthy Children.
This campaign is all based around the concept of building a dental home, a nationwide concept since the mid-1990s, an effort to establish a dental office where a child can go at 12 months or younger and develop a regular, consistent, relationship with that care team that supervises their oral health to maximize treatment and prevention. The child becomes comfortable there at an early age in order to build a foundation of good habits around oral health.
“It stresses the importance of having a dental visit before the age of one, and that children have a consistent place to go for care, just like going to a pediatrician,” said Amundsen in an email exchange. “This is as much an education opportunity for the parents as it is for the kids.”
Oral Health is currently getting worse in the United States according to the progress update for Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2020 initiative. We are currently getting worse in this area and two others public health areas, teen depression and suicide.
The Healthy People 2020 intitiative says our target for people visiting the dentist every year is 49 percent. From 2007 to 2011, we have decreased our rate, from 44.5 percent in 2007 to 41.8 percent in 2011.
And for adults age 45 to 64 years old, from 2009 to 2010, the CDC reports that only 29 percent of this age group had a full set of permanent teeth. The foundation of oral health is extremely important in childhood, in order to build a healthy life.Chelsea Rice is a health producer for Boston.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaRice.