Primary care doctors are key in improving kids’ dental health

Primary care doctors are being urged to play a bigger role in improving kids’ dental health, says The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).

Noting that very young children are less likely to visit a dentist, the USPSTF says doctors can fill in an important gap.

“Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in American children, but only about one out of four children under 6 years old visits a dentist,” said Task Force chair Virginia Moyer, M.D., M.P.H., in a statement. “Fortunately, evidence shows that primary care clinicians can play an important role in helping to reduce tooth decay, substantially improving children’s health.”

The USPSTF says cavities in children can lead to significant health problems including a predisposition for cavities later in life, tooth loss and pain. Untreated cavities can affect kids’ growth and speech as well, they said. Children who live in areas with non-fluoridated drinking water are especially vulnerable.

Primary clinicians can help in two ways, says the USPSTF. Doctors can provide fluoride supplements for kids starting at 6 months old. They can also offer fluoride treatments to children as soon as their teeth come in.

“Evidence shows that both fluoride varnish and oral fluoride supplements can help prevent tooth decay in young children,” says Task Force member Glenn Flores, M.D. “These interventions are more vital than ever because, after decades of decline, the rate of tooth decay in children is rising, particularly in those 2 to 5 years old. Preventing this disease is critical to children’s well-being.”

Since baby teeth eventually just fall out, some parents might think dental care for young children is overrated or not necessary.

Dr. Leo Morton, a pediatric dentist with Advocate Health Care, says that is a myth.

“Neglecting regular brushing and flossing in kids can lead to cavities and eventually infection,” he says. “Getting an infection is serious business and can cause a host of problems in the body. It is essential for parents to make sure their kids are seeing a dentist as early as possible.”

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