Tooth decay is preventable.
Left untreated, however, it can lead to pain, infection and potentially life-threatening issues.
Indeed, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, American Dental Association, American Public Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend that children have their initial dental visit during the first year of life.
Delaying treatment may cause dire consequences. Untreated dental caries (that’s tooth decay to dentists) can lead to pain, difficulty in eating and – when the pain is unbearable – overuse of Emergency Rooms.
School absences, too. It is estimated in America that over 34 million school hours are lost each year due to dental problems; children with poor oral health are at the greatest risk for absence from school.
Not only that, tooth decay may lead to other infections and even death in extreme and rare cases, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association.
There is a case of a 12-year-old American boy who died as a result of an untreated dental infection that spread to his brain, according to the same study. It also mentions the case of a six-year- old who died following complications due to infection secondary to a dental abscess.
From 2000 to 2008, severe bacterial infections in the innermost part of the tooth led to more than 60,000 hospitalizations in the United States, resulting in at least 66 deaths across all ages.
This is why it is recommended that the first dental visit occur by age one.
The age one dental visit allows for the early prevention and identification of dental disease.
In the US, dental caries remains the most common chronic disease of childhood, more than four times more prevalent than asthma, according to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics published in 2016.
It is thus important for early dental visits for children to grow up with healthy smiles.
Early dental visits are not just for infants. They are recommended for parents to educate them about childhood oral health.
Dental exams in infancy can delay or prevent any need for surgical intervention later on.
In America, early treatment of tooth decay is a positive sign. It also illustrates the fact that dentists and parents may be getting to children’s needs too late.
It may that after Age One, dental issues may no longer be prevented.
And this is unfortunate because children with good oral health live healthier, happier lives.
That’s not just my opinion. A study published in the Pediatric Dentistry journal in 1992 suggests that children with early childhood tooth decay may weigh less than 80 percent of their age-adjusted ideal weight.
A study of one- to three-year-olds in Brazil, published in the same journal in 2017, showed that children with untreated dental disease in advanced stages are more likely to have a poorer quality of life than their peers, with more difficulty in eating and drinking.
Following dental rehabilitation, however, children experience an increase in growth, according to another study published in 1999 in the Pediatric Dentistry journal.
So there. Bring your child to a dentist at an early age, even at Year One.
Dr. Joseph D. Lim is the former Associate Dean of the UE College of Dentistry, former Dean of the College of Dentistry, National University, past president and honorary fellow of the Asian Oral Implant Academy, and honorary fellow of the Japan College of Oral Implantologists. Honorary Life Member of Thai Association of Dental Implantology. For questions on dental health, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or text 0917-8591515./WDJ