Tooth decay in children is five times more common than asthma, four times more common than early childhood obesity, and 20 times more common than diabetes, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. And unfortunately more children are getting cavities at very young ages. It’s no surprise that dentists now recommend that kids have their first dental visit by their first birthday.
“Getting a child to a dentist isn’t just about checking for cavities because at 12 months old, an infant doesn’t have very many teeth,” said Mary Lee Conicella, DMD, Aetna’s chief dental officer. “It’s about establishing a dental home for the child, making sure the child has a dentist and getting the child used to a regimen of regular visits. A dentist can also monitor the growth and development of the child.”
Regular dental visits help children stay cavity-free, while removing debris that may build up on their teeth and irritate their gums. A dentist may also identify other changes in a child’s oral health, including orthodontic issues.
Yet research shows that those regular dental visits may not be happening throughout childhood. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that more than half (56 percent) of children and adolescents had not visited the dentist in the previous year.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children have a dental check-up at least twice a year, although some children may need more frequent dental visits due to increased risk of tooth decay, irregular growth patterns or poor dental hygiene.
For parents who grew up seeing the dentist once a year, the increased frequency of checkups may seem like a lot. But research from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research shows that young children are getting more potentially preventable cavities. Among them:
- 42 percent of children ages 2 to 11 have had cavities in baby teeth.
- 21 percent of children ages 6 to 11 have had cavities in permanent teeth.
Parents may not be aware of hidden risks to their kid’s oral health, including passing saliva to their children. According to Conicella, saliva transfers from tasting baby food before feeding a baby with the same spoon or cleaning a dropped pacifier in the parents’ mouth “can absolutely pass along the bacteria that cause tooth decay from a parent to their young child.”
Aetna provides resources to parents and families to understand and take care of children’s dental needs. In addition, the company has hosted dental health awareness events across the country for the past 10 years. During the events, employees from Aetna’s dental insurance team visit with children across the country in Head Start, Boys & Girls Clubs, daycare programs, schools, children’s museums and afterschool programs, talking about dental care and handing out toothbrushes, toothpaste and educational materials.
And for the past nine years Aetna has worked with clinicians from Columbia University to research connections between dental and overall health. The Aetna Dental Medical IntegrationSM Program was developed in response to that research. To date, the program has been able to identify 2 million at-risk members and has provided $50 million in enhanced dental benefits.
Need more information? Talk with your dentist or pediatrician.