"So much of dental care is reactionary;
parents will bring their children in only if there's a problem. But it's highly
unusual for a parent to wait until the child is sick to take him or her to the
pediatrician," said Helpin. "Just as you schedule well baby visits and health
check-ups with a pediatrician, you should also schedule oral health check-ups
with a dentist."
According to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, tooth decay is the most chronic childhood disease in
the U.S. - five times more prevalent than asthma and seven times more
prevalent than hay fever. Yet it is a condition that is entirely preventable.
Helpin says that the key to prevention lies
with early, regular visits to the dentist, which should typically be every six
months. In addition to treating and preventing tooth decay, both children and
parents get valuable information about maintaining healthy teeth and gums.
The American Academy for Pediatric
Dentistry recommends that children first be seen by their dentist within six
months of the first sign of a tooth, and warns that without continued
preventive care, poor oral health could lead to a number of health and
development issues in adolescence and adulthood.
"It's important to establish a relationship with a dentist the same way you would with a pediatrician," Helpin said. "This is the idea behind the 'dental home' - a place where an oral health care provider has established a relationship with the child. That doesn't mean just
treating an issue; it also includes preventive treatment and nutritional counseling."
According to the AAPD, the concept of a dental home "enhances the dental professional's ability to assist children and their parents in the quest for optimum oral health care, beginning with the age
one dental visit for successful preventive care and treatment as part of an
overall oral health care foundation."
By including dental checkups in the back-to-school health screening process, Helpin says parents will be able to establish a routine where dental care and education are provided, to ensure
good oral and overall health for life.