Although preventable, tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. Tooth decay can develop any time after the first tooth comes in, starting around 6 months of age. Establishing good dental habits in early childhood is essential for preventing or lessening the impact of tooth decay while ensuring a lifetime of good oral health. This month, we encourage parents to help their kids develop healthy routines including visiting the dentist regularly, brushing their teeth twice a day and flossing once a day.
Good oral health is important to a child’s overall health and well-being. First, healthy baby teeth are the foundation for proper alignment of adult teeth. Second, untreated tooth decay and other oral health issues can not only cause discomfort and pain, but also lead to school absences and difficulty learning. Oral health problems also can affect a child’s ability to speak and eat, impacting social confidence and overall nutrition.
According to a statewide oral health assessment, 22 percent of Illinois third-graders had untreated tooth decay and only 65 percent of Illinois children had their first dental visit before 5 years of age.1 Regular dental visits are vital. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children visit the dentist by their first birthday and continue regular dental visits thereafter. Visiting the dentist early and often can help set the foundation for good oral health care and allows the child and parent to establish a relationship with the dentist.
In addition to regular dental visits starting at age 1 or when a child’s first tooth appears, a good home oral health routine is important. However, Illinois parents acknowledge that their kids’ brushing and flossing habits could use some improvement. More than 4 in 10 (43 percent) parents say their children only brush their teeth once a day at most, while nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of parents say their children do not floss every day.2
Children should brush twice a day and floss once a day just as adults should. Parents should practice good oral health habits themselves, which makes establishing a routine for their children easier. We also recommend parents help children brush and floss — or at least supervise — until they are 7 or 8, when most children can properly care for their teeth with occasional reminders. Here are more tips to help your child have a healthy smile.
Delta Dental of Illinois is committed to improving oral health in Illinois. Through the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation, we sponsor programs that provide oral health education and improve access to care. For example, our Land of Smiles program visits Illinois elementary schools educating thousands of pre-kindergarten through third-grade students on how to take care of their teeth and overall oral health each year. In addition, our annual Dentist By 1 program educates caregivers on the importance of dental visits by age 1. The program provides training to dental professionals who then participate in free clinics to deliver preventive care to children 5 and younger. Learn more about the Foundation and how it’s working to improve oral health.
1 2016 Oral Health in Illinois report. Funded by Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation Michael Reese Health Trust.
2 2018 Delta Dental of Illinois Children’s Oral Health Report. Kelton, a leading global insights firm, performed the survey. Interviews were conducted statewide via email with 150 Illinois parents of children ages 12 and under. For results based on the total sample of Illinois adults, the margin of error is plus or minus 8 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.