Kids’ dental exams are too often the forgotten checkup

Most kids go to the doctor for a general checkup before school starts but it’s important to remember teeth need a checkup, too.

Parents and kids are picking out school supplies and new clothes, meeting this year’s teacher and heading to the pediatrician for a checkup. But kids are not fully protected against disease without a dental checkup, too, says Noel Childers, D.D.S., chair of the UAB Department of Pediatric Dentistry.

In fact, tooth decay is the most prevalent childhood disease — five times more common than asthma, seven times more than hay fever — and more than 51 million school hours are lost each year to absences related to dental illnesses, according to a U. S. Surgeon General’s report. By age 17, nearly 80 percent of children in America have had a cavity.

“Preventing tooth decay is our No. 1 objective. And catching other developments early — before they require major work — is the reason children should see a dentist every six months,” Childers says. “Preventing disease is easier and less painful than treating it.”

Childers says there is a connection between oral health and overall health, and dentists can spot some general health problems during patients’ regular checkups.

“One of the most common things we see in the dental profession is something called dental erosion,” he says. “It’s caused by a chemical reaction to something that’s taken into the body or something that’s coming from the inside through esophageal reflux. We can ask parents simple questions to know if it is reflux and refer kids to their pediatrician for treatment.

“Other diseases a dentist may notice before outward symptoms appear include diabetes, which may be signaled by odor of a child’s breath,” Childers says.

Understanding the importance of preventive medicine and preventive dentistry is important for a child’s health and Childers says that in addition to getting regular checkups at the dentist, parents should promote overall systemic and dental health:

  • Brush and floss every day
  • Use fluoride rinse or toothpaste
  • Eat a balanced diet and avoid acidic foods that can damage the teeth