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February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, and
Health Net, Inc. (NYSE: HNT) reminds parents and caregivers about how to prevent early childhood caries (ECC), otherwise known as “baby bottle tooth decay.”
American Dental Association (ADA) defines ECC as the presence of one or more decayed or missing teeth or fillings in a child up to 71 months of age.
According to the
National Institutes of Health (NIH), ECC can occur when a child’s teeth come in contact with too much sugar. Sugar facilitates the growth of bacteria, and bacteria-produced acids can, in turn, cause tooth decay.
The NIH additionally notes that ECC often can be traced specifically to liquids that contain sugar, including milk, formula, fruit juices, and soft drinks. The NIH additionally points out that the potential for ECC increases if a child sleeps or walks around with a bottle or training cup containing a sugary liquid, because the sugar coats their teeth for longer periods of time, causing teeth to decay more quickly.
“What many people don’t realize is that children who don’t receive appropriate dental care can grow up to become adults with poor dental health,” says Robert Shechet, D.D.S., director of dental programs for Health Net, Inc.
Shechet explained that – as part of Health Net’s efforts to help reduce the incidence of ECC and to set youngsters on a lifelong path of good dental health – the company is working with primary care physicians to educate parents regarding the importance of:
Scheduling a dental visit for children within six months of their first tooth appearing, but no later than age 1;
Switching from bottles to cups by age 1; and
Helping children brush their teeth until age 7 and teaching them the importance of oral hygiene and good nutrition.
ECC Takes Significant Toll
ECC is a serious medical issue. In fact, as reported by the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ECC is the single most common chronic childhood disease, as it is five times more common than asthma, and seven times more common than hay fever. According to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ECC among children younger than 6 years is prevalent, affecting nearly half of U.S. 5 year olds, despite being highly preventable. The CDC further notes that ECC is associated with lifelong cavities, because the process that results in cavities – once established – tends to be stable and chronic.
The ADA adds that ECC exacts a significant toll on children, affecting their development, school performance and behavior. And the NIH points out that ECC often leads to pain and infection necessitating hospitalization for dental extractions.