National Children’s Dental Health Month: Our Commitment to Improving the Oral Health of the Next Generation
By Steve Pollock, President and Chief Executive Officer, DentaQuest
This February marks the 75th annual National Children’s Dental Health Month, bringing together dental and health leaders across the country to raise awareness of and provide tools to improve kids’ oral – and overall – health. We are working hard to address the impact of sugar consumption on children’s long-term oral health with this year’s kid-friendly Sugar Wars campaign, hosted by the American Dental Association.
To help illustrate the importance of this campaign, added sugar consumption among children across the United States accounts for 15 percent of calories every day. This is a full 5 percent higher than the recommendations from the recently-released 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which indicate that added sugars should account for less than 10 percent of calories daily.
Now, think of the impact this has on their health, ranging from weight gain to nutritional deficiencies to tooth decay. Sugar helps nurture cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth. If left unchecked, sugar intake can lead to significant tooth decay.
Would you believe that tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood illness in the United States?
Tooth decay in kids is five times more common than asthma. Today, about 20 percent of children ages 5 to 11 have at least one untreated decayed tooth, and the percentage of children ages 5 to 19 with untreated tooth decay is actually twice as high for those from low-income families – when compared with children from higher-income households.
The implications of childhood tooth decay can carry into adolescence and even adulthood. Not only can childhood tooth decay have long-term effects linked to poor oral health, heart disease and even diabetes, but it also has a significant financial impact on our health care system. This impact can be measured in the millions of dollars we spend as a country on emergency room care for dental issues today or with the long-term financial implications of poor oral health on the treatment of those with certain chronic illnesses.
So, how do we win the Sugar Wars?
Education, access and prevention. We must be advocates for our communities and educate people about the importance of oral health and sugar intake for kids, work with leaders to increase access to care and prioritize preventive dental services that will address these issues head on.
At DentaQuest, we are committed to improving the oral health of our next generation by transforming the systems of care, finance, community and policy to achieve optimal oral health for all. We have already taken steps to achieve this vision by:
- Working with our nation’s leaders to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides vital health coverage to kids across the country who wouldn’t otherwise have much-needed care.
- Creating and growing the Early Childhood Caries (ECC) Collaborative, a program piloted by the DentaQuest Institute that teaches medical providers about best practices for managing and preventing tooth decay in young children.
- Encouraging our leaders to act on the Oral Health 2020 Goals, which are aggressive, industry-changing charges developed by the DentaQuest Foundation and the Oral Health 2020 national network to improve the oral health of all. Among others, we aim to:
- Eradicate dental disease in children
- Incorporate oral health into the primary education system