For many, the anatomy associated with the month of February is the heart, thanks to the presence of Valentine’s Day and the fact that it is American Heart Month. But what about the teeth that we use to eat all those candy hearts and boxes of chocolate?
National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM) also takes place during February. Dental cavities (caries) are one of the most common chronic childhood diseases. If not treated, they can cause pain and infections, and in rare cases, those infections can prove fatal. Fluoride varnishes and dental sealants are very effective at preventing cavities in children; dental sealants specifically can reduce dental cavities by about 80% for two years after application. Unfortunately, children from low-income families are less likely to receive such treatments.
One of the Healthy People 2030 objectives is to increase the proportion of low-income youth who have regular preventative dental visits. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that children have their first dental visit after their first tooth appears and no later than their first birthday. Healthy People 2030’s target is for 79.9% of children living in households with incomes less than twice the federal poverty level to receive preventative dental care. But in 2020-21, only 68.7% of that population had a preventative dental visit, which was a decrease from 75.8% in the baseline year of 2016-17.
In addition to regular visits to oral health professionals, at-home behavior is a key factor in maintaining healthy teeth at any age. Starting at two years old, caretakers should be brushing children’s teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste, and as kids get older, their brushing should be supervised until good habits are developed.
Libraries can play an important role in providing resources to improve children’s dental health. In celebration of National Children’s Dental Health Month, the ADA has created posters, flyers, a program planning guide, and activity sheets for kids in English and Spanish. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a free downloadable toolkit for healthcare providers looking to improve the oral health of their prenatal and pediatric patients. Parents and caregivers of young children might be interested in the family resources provided by Sesame Workshop which includes games and songs to encourage kids to brush their teeth, along with advice and education for their adults.
Additionally, improving the dental health outcomes for all children requires more than individual behavioral changes. Social determinants of health (SDOH) play a major role in the oral health disparities in the United States. NNLM frequently offers trainings related to SDOH, including a weekly webinar series on social determinants of environmental health that will be running this spring.
And anyone—working in a library or not—can familiarize themselves with the health and economic benefits of oral health interventions, such as the application of dental sealants for children and community water fluoridation.
This post was written by Rachel Suppok, Research & Instruction Librarian, School of Dental Medicine Liaison, Health Sciences Library System, University of Pittsburgh.