Recently I wrote this article for a local newspaper, The Gettysburg Times, on the behalf of our local oral health task force. I wanted to post it to our blog due to the positive feedback we received from the community. If you are curious as to how we have incorporated an “under four” initiative into our practice, please reach out —we are always glad to share our experience.
Tooth decay is an avoidable agony for kids
By Dr. Joseph Mountain, Family First Health
According to the Centers for Disease Control, tooth decay is one of the most common chronic childhood diseases. But what exactly is tooth decay? Tooth decay is a carbohydrate-fed bacterial process that thrives in an acidic environment. Many of the foods we eat have carbohydrates and contribute to the acidic environment. This bacterial process results in the development of a hole in a tooth, referred to as a cavity or “tooth decay.”
Thankfully, tooth decay is a preventable condition. However, if left untreated, it can become painful and debilitating. Untreated tooth decay can progress to cause dangerous infections, hospitalization and even death.
Early in my career as a dentist, it was normal to schedule a child’s first dental visit at 4 or 5 years old. But as with many diseases, the youngest among us are the most vulnerable. We now know that focusing on prevention and early intervention is much less expensive over time, and provides better outcomes.
As a dental director at Family First Health, I have had the pleasure of interacting with many families in southcentral Pennsylvania. Living and practicing in this community, I have witnessed the unnecessary suffering caused by tooth decay. Older children often miss days of school and suffer with unimaginable pain. For infants and toddlers, the situation can become critical because it often goes undiagnosed until the child has a visible swelling or is unable to eat. In these cases, restoring the affected teeth often requires treatment in the operating room.
Education and early intervention is key in building a healthy community. Understanding this, we encourage parents to bring their infants into our dental offices before the eruption of their first tooth. We’ve also begun experimenting with medical and dental integration, in which providers work together to offer dental visits during well child visits. It is a tremendous benefit to have medical providers who can talk with parents on how to maintain their kids’ teeth in a way that is both easy and safe.
Family First Health is not alone in the fight to improve the oral health of children in our communities. We have combined forces with other like-minded professionals and community leaders to form the Adams County Oral Health Task Force.
This year, the task force will begin to distribute literature to educate families on the benefits of working with their family dentist to have their kids begin these dental visits earlier. During an infant or toddler exam, the parent sits in the dental chair while holding the child. The provider examines and brushes teeth and applies fluoride. Even this brief appointment affords the opportunity to identify problems and provide valuable education on how cavities are formed, plus how to prevent cavities and keep a child’s teeth healthy.
When visits are started early, the child develops a positive view of dentist visits — they view the dentist’s office as a friendly place where they get a new toothbrush and prizes.
In building the relationship from a young age, we hope to be able to make a difference in our community’s health and quality of life for years to come.