Tooth decay is the #1 chronic disease of childhood.
Healthy teeth and gums are essential at every stage in life.
From primary or "baby" teeth to our senior years, we need teeth to eat, speak and smile. Tooth decay can interfere with those daily activities. Cavities are caused by a disease called caries that is nearly always preventable. This infographic shows the role that sugar (and carbohydrates) play as the "fuel" driving the disease process. (Use these talking points to educate stakeholders in your community or state.)
This disease process weakens teeth. Think about it: a cavity is a hole in the tooth's enamel, which is the hardest substance in the body. That’s a powerful infection. That infection can travel to other parts of the body.
A child's risk for tooth decay can vary significantly, and that's why we need to move toward a strategy of risk-based care. Many factors shape a child's risk, including the health and behavior of moms and other caregivers. In fact, in a recent survey, only 18% of adults know that the bacteria that cause tooth decay can be transmitted from parent to child.
A cold or flu typically goes away with time, but tooth decay does not. In this video, Dr. Burton Edelstein, a Columbia University professor who founded the Children's Dental Health Project, explains what people need to know about tooth decay.
It's a disturbing and costly cycle. Young children with advanced tooth decay may need dental surgery under general anesthesia, which may affect developing brains. At one children's hospital, an estimated $40 million a year is spent on treating early childhood cavities. Because the underlying disease is not addressed by the surgery, most children who receive dental surgery develop new cavities within two years.
If left untreated, tooth decay can even threaten lives. Deamonte Driver, a 12-year-old Maryland boy, tragically died in 2007 from an oral infection that spread to his brain. Driver's tragic death prompted Maryland to change its health policies to improve children's access to care. Strengthening state policies can help ensure that more children get the care they need to prevent dental disease or manage it so it doesn't progress to a cavity. Learn more about strategies to end cavities.
Use the following resources to raise awareness of children's dental health and what we can do (together) to put kids on a path toward lifelong good oral health:
- Talking Points for oral health advocates
- Fact Sheet on the need for risk-based care
- Fact Sheet on pregnant women's oral health
- Issue Brief on what states can do to prevent early childhood cavities
- Infographic 1: A Coordinated System to End Cavities
- Infographic 2: Fewer Cavities, Lower Cost
- Videos about childhood cavities and strategies that can improve oral health
- Survey of Adults' Knowledge of oral health and prevention (December 2015)
- Peer-Reviewed Study: Reducing early childhood caries in a Medicaid population (2015)
- Five Tips for encouraging local media to cover the issue of early childhood cavities
- Organizations or Educational Sites with helpful resources on children's oral health include: