The Mouth Matters!
By Patrice Pascual
“Families are surprised to learn that tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood, and that it’s preventable,” says pediatrician Rani Gereige, MD, MPH, FAAP, director of medical education at Miami Children’s Hospital. “They may have difficulty accessing a dentist. So I teach our residents to examine a child’s mouth. Without that, we can’t know if a child is fully healthy.”
But what should pediatricians be looking for? The AAP Section on Oral Health has a simple risk assessment tool for primary care providers. Through the Affordable Care Act, providers can offer several services at no cost to parents, including oral health risk assessments, the application of cavity-preventing fluoride varnish on children ages 0-5 and fluoride supplements for young children at high risk who live in areas where the water is not fluoridated.
When dental problems go unnoticed, children may end up in hospital emergency rooms, where costly procedures rarely address the underlying disease that causes cavities, not to mention missed school days, inability to learn or eat and grow due to pain.
“There are a lot of incentives for children’s hospitals to help families prevent oral health problems,” notes Dr. Gereige. “Pediatric departments are well positioned to provide basic services, to help link families to pediatric dentists and to train a new generation
of providers who treat the mouth as part of the body.”
“There are many serious child health issues that we cannot prevent,” Dr. Gereige adds. “Tooth decay is not one of them.”
Patrice Pascual is executive director of the Children’s Dental Health Project, a nonprofit based in Washington, DC