Dental caries, commonly known as tooth decay, is the single most common chronic childhood disease. In fact, it is an infectious disease. Mothers with cavities can transmit caries-producing oral bacteria to their babies when they clean pacifiers by sticking them in their own mouths or by sharing spoons.
According to Liliana Rozo, D.D.S., assistant profesor, University of Louisville School of Dentistry, tooth decay can have a detrimental effect on a child’s quality of life, performance in school and success in life. The disease can cause pain, inability to chew food well, embarrassment about discolored or damaged teeth, and distraction from play and learning.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) encourages parents to find a dental home for their baby as soon as the child’s first tooth erupts. Regular visits to a pediatric dentist will help parents become familiar with their child’s dental and oral health milestones. They’ll inform parents about teething, proper oral hygiene habits, normal tooth development, and trauma prevention. Nutritional counseling also will be a part of the discussion.
Often, Rozo said, parents do not make the connection between oral health and overall health, but they are related. The mouth is an open door for many microbial infections to enter the bloodstream. Poor oral health may be a risk factor for systemic disease. Oral health manifestations, such as bleeding or dry mouth can indicate the presence of a systemic disease or exacerbate the effects of an existing disease such as diabetes and heart disease.
So parents, too, should make their own oral health care a priority in order to help their children stay healthy, said Rozo, an AAPD board certified pediatric dentist.