Tooth decay is the most common chronic illness among children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but it’s mostly preventable with proper oral care. That’s why employers who promote oral hygiene education and awareness stand to greatly improve the lives of their workforce, as this information may curb the costly developmental setbacks of tooth decay in children.
Here’s how this illness can affect the emotional and mental well-being of children and how companies can pave the way for keeping tooth decay at bay.
How Tooth Decay Affects Children’s Health and Learning
Studies show that severe decay in baby teeth can infect the underlying permanent tooth, producing an environment with high levels of bacteria and making already-erupted permanent teeth vulnerable to decay.
When decayed baby teeth are prematurely extracted, there can be delays in the development of the permanent teeth, which can affect the positioning of these teeth when they finally erupt. Missing teeth can hinder a child’s ability to bite and chew properly, interfering with their nutrition.
The National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center explains that pain from severely decayed teeth can cause children to be anxious, fatigued and irritable and to withdraw from everyday activities at home and school. A child who is distracted and inattentive during the school day or is absent from class due to pain is at risk for poor grades and can miss out on valuable social experiences with their peers.
Nutritional problems that often accompany this dental problem can also lead to deficiencies in a child’s learning ability.
Ways Tooth Loss Affects Well-Being
Tooth loss at an early age can hamper a child’s speech development, potentially diminishing their self-esteem. Children are also sensitive and embarrassed by teeth that are visibly damaged or discolored from decay, which can lead them to be less friendly as they grapple with feelings of inferiority.
Once tooth decay reaches the nerve and blood vessel portion of the tooth, called pulp, it becomes infected and an abscess forms at the root tip. Not only is this very painful, but the infection can spread to the surrounding teeth and bone, as well as throughout the body with life-threatening complications.
How Employers Can Help Curb Tooth Decay in Children
Tooth decay in very young children is frequently referred to as Baby Bottle Tooth Decay, as it often stems from putting a baby to bed with a bottle of formula or using a bottle of juice to calm a fussy baby throughout the day.
To help your employees protect their children from dental decay, you can educate them on preventive measures that should begin as soon as their baby is home from the hospital. Along with never putting a baby to bed with a bottle, the American Dental Association recommends:
Cleaning the infant’s gums with damp gauze after each feeding; and when teeth appear, using a small soft brush with a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste.
Increasing fluoride toothpaste use to pea-size between ages 3 and 6.
Putting only formula or breast milk in bottles.
Not putting sugar or honey on pacifiers.
Providing healthy foods and avoiding sugary snacks.
Scheduling a visit to the dentist when the baby’s first tooth appears.
Emphasize to employees that as their children get older, their oral hygiene routine will need to evolve. When they have teeth that touch, for example, flossing should become part of their routine. Parents can help reinforce good oral hygiene habits by practicing them alongside their kids, such as brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and visiting the dentist twice a year.
Spread the word that small cavities should be treated before they become big cavities to avoid large bills and unpleasant dental procedures.
It’s important that employees understand the negative effects of tooth decay in children, and that even with dental coverage, extensive treatments can lead to high out-of-pocket expenses. Encourage them to make good use of the plan’s preventive benefits and reinforce that through prevention and early treatment, their children have the best chance of retaining their beautiful smiles well into adulthood.
Looking for tools and resources to help your employees manage their dental benefits? Check out the Employer Toolkit on United Concordia Dental’s website.