No, it is not sugary food alone that is responsible for poor oral health in American children, especially in the Appalachian region

No, it is not sugary food alone that is responsible for poor oral health in American children, especially in the Appalachian region

(The Conversation is an independent, non-profit source for news, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.)

Daniel W. McNeil, West Virginia University and Mary El Marazita, University of Pittsburgh for the Health Sciences

(Conversation) Brushing your teeth is essential to maintaining optimal oral health, but like most aspects of health, the whole story is more complex.

As directors of the Appalachian Region Oral Health Research Center, we know firsthand that disparities exist when it comes to oral health, including children. Some people or groups have more oral health problems than others due to a combination of factors that go beyond personal dental hygiene.

For example, Appalachia—which stretches from the northern part of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia to the southern part of New York, and includes all of West Virginia—has the greatest burden of oral health problems per person in the United States.

October is National Dental Hygiene Month, which provides an opportunity to draw more attention to this chronic but often preventable problem.

Oral health definition

While the terms dental health and dental health focus largely on teeth and gums, oral health is more inclusive. According to the FDI, oral health includes the proper functioning of the mouth, including “a person’s ability to talk, smile, smell, taste, touch, chew, swallow, and convey a range of emotions through facial expressions” without pain or discomfort. Oral health affects not only a person’s teeth, but also overall health and quality of life.

Tooth decay affects children across the United States, but little attention is paid to how much it can be prevented and treated. Cavities, or cavities, are the most common chronic disease in children — five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than environmental allergies, although they can be prevented. More than 40% of children have tooth decay by the time they start kindergarten.

However, people with less formal education or lower incomes, marginalized racial and ethnic groups and those who live in more rural areas, such as the Appalachians, tend to have more oral health problems than others, and at younger ages. The prevalence of dental caries in children in certain population groups is not only unfair but also a serious public health problem. Oral health problems early in life extend into adulthood and can last a lifetime.

Beyond personal dental hygiene

It is a common misconception that eating sugary foods and drinks is the only cause of tooth decay. While this is undoubtedly a problem, there is a lot more to good oral health. includes consistent brushing and flossing; eating healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables; avoid tobacco products; And wear a mouth guard while playing some sports. Regular dental care visits are also essential, as they provide an opportunity for cleaning and preventative care.

Oral health in children is a reflection of their general health and the health of their families; However, in addition to behavioral and social influences, other genetic and biological factors also play a role. For example, genes that influence taste preferences – such as those for sweet foods – are linked to caries in some teeth and tooth surfaces. It’s possible that our taste genes predispose some of us to prefer sweet foods and drinks, which is a risk factor for developing cavities.

Bacteria and other microorganisms in the mouth, known as the oral microbiome, also play a role. Some parts of the oral microbiome are beneficial and even required for good oral health. Other bacteria invaders can lead to oral diseases.

Just as important are environmental factors, including air quality, access to healthy foods, the cost of dental care, access to transportation to and from the dentist, and school programs that encourage good oral health among children. Whether one lives in a community with fluoridated water or has access to fluoride treatments is also important, as fluoride helps prevent tooth decay. Water quality in communities is another factor. If the only water available is toxic or unattractive, people may turn to soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages.

In addition, the perceived social support of mothers and fathers’ social networks can affect their children’s oral health as well. Among mothers with a large number of cavities, having someone to talk to about problems has been shown to be associated with fewer cavities in their babies.

Good Oral Health Modeling

The oral health of parents and caregivers greatly affects the health of their children. Children and their parents usually drink the same water, many of the same drinks, and eat a lot of the same foods. Children often follow their parents’ dental hygiene habits, too. Children typically deal with their parents and caregivers’ feelings about dental visits, too — whether it’s relief, stress, anxiety, or fear.

Parents’ ideas about dental care influence their decisions about preventive care. Dental fear and anxiety can cause them to delay or avoid dental appointments for themselves and their children. Oral health values ​​- the importance one places on maintaining normal and good-looking teeth – influence decision-making about dental health and professional dental care. Depression in parents can even affect the health of their teeth and the oral health of their children.

Dental problems in children can lead to school absenteeism, pain and embarrassment from visible decay, and tooth loss or crookedness. Teeth and gums are essential for speaking, eating, growing, and appearing. They affect social functioning and an individual’s enjoyment of food. Children’s dental problems affect their parents as well, as it can lead to parents unexpectedly missing out on the job to get their children to the dentist.

What can be done to improve oral health?

To a large extent, dental problems in children can be prevented. Some preventive steps are influenced by economic, educational, and health-care factors. One of the best things parents or caregivers can do is to establish a relationship for their child with a dentist, practitioner, office or clinic to promote prevention but also to provide emergency care if needed. In the world of oral health, this relationship is called the “house of the teeth.” The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and other professional health organizations recommend that children see an oral health care provider before age 1 or when the first tooth appears. Access to dental treatment, especially preventive care, has been shown to improve oral health in families and their communities.

System-wide changes are definitely needed as well. Since cost affects whether parents can provide routine dental care for their children, increasing access to dental insurance is an important step to ensure equal access and reduce inequality in oral health. Incorporating oral health practices into schools and educational programs is another system-wide change that will benefit all children regardless of their family’s socioeconomic status.

Oral health is a critical factor in an individual’s overall health. Educating children at this early stage can help them develop a healthy smile and take care of their pearly whites throughout their lives.

This article has been republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here:

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