The saying goes “it takes a village to raise a child,” and National Children’s Dental Health Month is a great time to consider the important role medical providers play in helping keep a child healthy and happy, and ways to strengthen that role to improve comprehensive health.
Pediatricians play a vital role in a child’s health, often serving as the first line of defense to ensure a child remains healthy and is set up for a healthy life. Because pediatricians are able to see patients so often during their early development, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a total of 10 wellness visits by the time a child turns two, there is a great opportunity to incorporate oral health into the overall health services pediatricians provide.
Oral Health’s Role in Children’s Overall Health
Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease in America, five times more prevalent in children than asthma. Almost 30% of kids will get a cavity before they lose their first tooth, and nearly half of Virginia’s third graders experience tooth decay, we need to address dental disease in children as it can lead to poor nutrition, and missed school hours.
Oral health in childhood creates a ripple effect throughout a person’s life, children with cavities in their baby teeth are 3 times more likely to get cavities in their adult teeth. Because of the lasting impact and far reaching consequences of poor oral health in children health care providers must do everything they can to set children up for a lifetime of good oral health.
Opportunities for Pediatricians
One of the most effective, and easiest ways for pediatricians to ensure their patients have good oral health is through fluoride varnish application. In Virginia, medical providers can bill for fluoride varnish application, yet only 5% of Medicaid pediatric providers apply fluoride varnish. Research shows that four or more applications of fluoride varnish in early childhood can lower rates of tooth decay, making it a simple way for pediatricians to improve comprehensive health care for their patients.
Along with fluoride varnish, pediatricians can work towards a more robust referral program for patients. In Virginia, only 24% of children aged 1-2 had a preventive dental visit through Medicaid. Building a referral system for patients can create a more integrated system of care for children and ensure they have a dental home from a young age.
This Children’s Dental Health Month, and every month, health care providers should take time to consider the best way to set children up for a healthy, happy life. By focusing on the full body, including the mouth, pediatricians can best help their patients.