How tooth decay can be a disruptive, prevalent problem for kids

(Ohio News Connection) – Brushing, flossing and regular checkups at the dentist can ward off cavities, but in Ohio, oral health is the most prevalent unmet health-care need among kids.

According to a state survey, nearly half of school-aged children had a history of tooth decay and one in five had untreated cavities, before the pandemic. Children on Medicaid, living in lower-income families or from the Appalachian region had a higher prevalence of tooth decay.

Dr. Matthew Messina, editor for the Ohio Dental Association and assistant professor at the Ohio State University College of Dentistry, said oral health problems can be very disruptive.

“When children have teeth that hurt, they miss days of school, adults miss days of work,” Messina observed. “You can’t go to school and concentrate if you have a toothache.”

What stops kids from visiting the dentist regularly?

Cost, lack of insurance and provider shortages are common barriers to regular dental visits. Nearly 1.8 million Ohioans live in an area where there are not enough dentists to meet the needs of the community.

recent study linked gum disease to an increased risk of complications from COVID-19. Messina agreed untreated tooth decay can lead to infection.

“The bacteria that are present in the mouth have access to the body through the same blood vessels that flow through the tongue and the gums, and the bones around the teeth,” Messina explained. “So, if you have an infection in the mouth, those bacteria have access to the whole body.”

Baby teeth are important

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. Along with establishing good dental hygiene practice at a young age, Messina encouraged parents to talk to their kids about the connection between oral health care and physical health.

“Your teeth are connected to the rest of the body, and they’re going to be there for a lifetime,” Messina emphasized. “Even baby teeth that we’re going to lose, they hold the space for the permanent teeth and help us grow and develop well. So, baby teeth are certainly very important to us.”

The state’s Oral Health Program has more than 150 safety-net dental clinics in 59 Ohio counties for people enrolled in Medicaid, offering free or reduced-price care to people without dental insurance. Kids can also receive free and low-cost dental care through the Healthy Start-Healthy Families program.

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