Early childhood is arguably the most vulnerable season of a child’s life, as proper care and diligence are required to protect the prospects of solid health and development to sustain them into adulthood. Similar to annual medical examinations, children’s oral health is strongly influenced by the level of care, attention, and oral behaviors modeled by parents, caregivers, or family that surrounds them.
While disparities in poor oral health are not exclusively dictated by race or ethnicity, levels of education, socioeconomic status, dental insurance, and parental preventive care attitudes serve as leading determinants of where many Black and brown children fall concerning their status of dental care.
Helping to provide better clarity and deeper insight, Dr. Gerard Davidson, DDS, MPH, of Davidson Dental in Silver Spring, Maryland, spoke to The Washington Informer about the gray area between poor and quality pediatric dental care.
Lack of Education and Preventative Care
Did you know that lack of education and access to preventive care is one of the key variables behind poor dental health for children?
“Kids, especially little kids, if they are not getting healthy sources of food, drinking juices or milk before they go to sleep and not brushing, those sugars stay on their teeth and are eaten up by the bacteria and [consequently] form cavities. So, education is one thing,” said Dr. Davidson.
Preventive care is another aspect.
Some children do not have a provider or dental insurance, but not visiting the dentist on a regular basis can also cause serious challenges. While the District has a wide medicaid provider network, in Maryland, that is not the case. Because Maryland is the lowest paying provider of Medicaid in the U.S., a lot of providers are not a part of Maryland Medicaid.”
Primary Teeth: Prime Time for Proper Care
Did you know that the enamel of the primary dentition is not as hard as the secondary dentition, making them more susceptible to cavities?
“If the kids get cavities at a young age and remain untreated, they will end up losing those teeth,” Davidson said. “Once they lose the teeth before it’s time, it affects the eruption of the permanent teeth, or secondary dentition. The jaws may not be fully developed, or they may be crowding because the teeth are supposed to be there for a certain amount of time allowing the secondary tooth below it to develop. The enamel of the primary dentition is not as resistant to bacteria and sugar working on them, or to cavities as the secondary is.”
Poor Nutrition Weakens Oral Health
Did you know there is a direct correlation between the nutritional value of the foods children eat and their dental health?
“These high fructose corn syrup foods that you will find in corner store markets lack nutritional value. They are high in fructose and corn sugar and are highly sought out by bacteria, which is how you get cavities,” Davidson told The Informer. “So in addition to all the other things, the childhood obesity, and diabetes that come from these high fructose corn syrup embedded foods you have, increases [chance of] cavities.”
Your Water Source Can Help or Hurt Your Teeth
Did you know that regular tap water can contribute to strengthening the enamel?
“We have to be educated and understand what we can protect our children from to prevent poor oral health,” Davidson said. “If they are brushing properly at night before they go to sleep, not just going to sleep after eating candy or even regular food without brushing their teeth. That includes soda, or even milk.”
Davidson noted that people are not drinking enough tap water.
“People are drinking bottled water and sodas. The regular tap water has fluoride in it which helps to straighten the enamel. We have kids that come in that have what we call, ‘rampant caries.’
Rampant caries are widespread cavities.
“[For example], little ones who are drinking milk from bottles, or the kids who are put to sleep with the bottle. The milk has lactose and that breaks down to sugar when it is digested and it stays on the teeth which causes cavities,” Davidson said. “So, there are kids who come in with multiple teeth with cavities. There is a need to educate the parents and let them know they cannot put their babies to sleep without brushing their teeth first.”