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.”
The 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.
To prevent tooth decay, the NIH recommends the following actions:
- Do not fill your child’s bottle with fluids that are high in sugar, such as punch or soft drinks;
- Put your child to bed with a bottle of water only – not juice, milk, or other drinks;
- Give children ages 6 months through 12 months only formula to drink in bottles;
- Remove the bottle or stop nursing when your child has fallen asleep;
- Avoid letting your child walk around using a bottle of juice or milk as a pacifier;
- Avoid prolonged use of pacifiers, and do not dip pacifiers in honey, sugar, or syrup;
- Work toward eliminating your child’s use of a bottle by age 12 months to 14 months; and
- Limit juice to fewer than 6 ounces per day during meals.
In relation to caring for your child's teeth, the NIH shares these tips:
- After each feeding, gently wipe your child’s teeth and gums with a clean washcloth or gauze to remove plaque;
- Begin tooth brushing as soon as your child has teeth. Brush your teeth together, at least at bedtime. If you have an infant or toddler, place a small amount of non-fluoridated toothpaste on a washcloth and rub it gently on their teeth. You can switch to fluoridated toothpaste when you are sure that your child spits out all of the toothpaste after brushing. Older children can use a toothbrush with soft, nylon bristles. Use a very small amount of toothpaste (no more than the size of a pea);
- Start flossing children’s teeth when all of the primary (baby) teeth have erupted (usually around 36 months); and
- If your baby is 6 months or older, use fluoridated water or a fluoride supplement if you have well water without fluoride. If you use bottled water, make sure it contains fluoride.
Medical Advice Disclaimer
The information provided is not intended as medical advice or as a substitute for professional medical care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other health provider for any questions you may have regarding your medical condition and follow your health care provider’s instructions.
About Health Net
Health Net, Inc. is a publicly traded managed care organization that delivers managed health care services through health plans and government-sponsored managed care plans. Its mission is to help people be healthy, secure and comfortable. Health Net provides and administers health benefits to approximately 5.4 million individuals across the country through group, individual, Medicare (including the Medicare prescription drug benefit commonly referred to as “Part D”), Medicaid, Department of Defense, including TRICARE, and Veterans Affairs programs. Through its subsidiaries, Health Net also offers behavioral health, substance abuse and employee assistance programs, managed health care products related to prescription drugs, managed health care product coordination for multi-region employers, and administrative services for medical groups and self-funded benefits programs.
For more information on Health Net, Inc., please visit Health Net’s website at www.healthnet.com.
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