Everyone Deserves a Healthy Smile. Especially Kids.

This article was originally published in Patch.

Imagine. Not being able to chew your food or drink anything without pain. Not being able to speak clearly. Not being able to concentrate when you try to learn. Or even play.

That's what an untold number of kids face each day throughout the nation, and right here in South Carolina – due to untreated tooth decay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that cavities remain one of the most common chronic childhood diseases in the United States. Additional studies reveal that approximately 20% of 5- to 11-year-olds have at least one untreated cavity, as do 13% of 12- to 19-year-olds. The South Carolina State Oral Health Plan reveals that 12.4% of children have untreated tooth decay.

These are alarming numbers, especially considering that cavities are preventable.

February is National Children's Dental Health Month, which reminds us of the importance of good oral health for kids. Taking kids to the dentist twice a year for an exam, professional cleaning and other necessary treatment is critical to their overall health and quality of life.

Unfortunately, many families struggle with access to dental care due to lack of insurance, or a shortage of dental professionals in their area. In response, Delta Dental of South Carolina offers a Dental Care Resource Guide with options for free and low-cost dental care statewide.

Even those with dental insurance may have missed or postponed their regular checkups due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dental offices are continuing to take necessary protective measures to safely treat patients, so they can get the regular care they need.

In addition to ensuring regular dental visits, parents and caregivers can take the following steps to help maintain children's dental health:

  • Provide kids with a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. Limit foods high in sugar or starch. Help kids drink plenty of water every day.
  • Brush your child's teeth gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush and a pea-size drop of fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day with special attention to the gum line. As your child gets older, let them brush themselves, but until about age six, put the toothpaste on the toothbrush for them.
  • Help children floss at least once a day.
  • Replace toothbrushes every three to four months, or earlier if bristles are spread and worn.
  • Be aware of bad habits like your child chewing ice or crunching hard foods, using teeth to open packages, or grinding and clenching, which can break or chip teeth.
  • Have your child wear a mouth guard when participating in sports or other activities that could cause trauma to the face and jaw.

Ask your child's dentist about the benefits of sealants and fluoride varnishes. According to the CDC, applying dental sealants to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth prevents 80% of cavities, while applying a fluoride varnish can prevent about 33% of cavities in the primary (baby) teeth.

As a leading dental benefits provider and a non-profit organization with a mission to improve oral health, Delta Dental of South Carolina is committed to helping meet the oral health needs of children and adults across the state. Our Land of Smiles® program teaches grade-schoolers how to take care of their growing smiles, educating more than 196,000 kids in South Carolina since 2014. In 2019 and 2020, Delta Dental of South Carolina contributed more than $1.36M to support community outreach initiatives, including a couple in the Greenville area, which provide dental care and oral health education to children and adults.

This National Children's Dental Health Month, we encourage parents and caregivers to make children's dental health a priority. Helping kids get regular preventive care and learn healthy habits early will improve their oral and overall health for a lifetime.

Ron Inge, DDS, is chief dental officer, chief operating officer and vice president of professional services at Delta Dental of South Carolina.

Delta Dental of South Carolina is a trade name of Delta Dental of Missouri, a leading dental benefits provider and a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization, which operates in South Carolina under that name.