Majority of Parents Schedule Child's First Dental Visit Two Years Too Late

March 21, 2002
Early visits are crucial, according to AAPD director.

A survey of U.S. expectant mothers, mothers and primary caregivers released today reveals that nearly 70 percent of children begin receiving dental care two years later than the age recommended by pediatric dental experts.

On average, children first visit a dentist at age three. Dental experts recommend that initial visits occur between the ages of six months and one year, or when the first tooth appears.

"Early visits are crucial in assessing diet and feeding patterns that may contribute to tooth decay, determining if such preventive measures as fluoride treatments are required and teaching parents to better understand and care for their child's teeth and gums," said John S. Rutkauskas, D.D.S., M.B.A., executive director of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) Foundation.

Gallup & Robinson conducted the "Oral-B/AAPD Foundation Checkup on Children's Oral Care" study in conjunction with the AAPD Foundation's "Good Health Starts Here" campaign. The two organizations conducted a similar study in 1996.

A comparison with the findings of the earlier study reveals that today's parents are more informed and involved in their children's oral care routine. For example, in 1996, only one-third of parents were aware that their child's oral care routine should begin early and that they should regularly clean their child's gums before the child even has teeth. By contrast, in 2002, over half of parents clean their child's gums.

Some improvements have occurred, but differences still exist between parental behavior and attitudes towards their children's oral care and AAPD recommendations:

Children's Oral Care Issues AAPD Recommendations Study Findings
Parental Supervision of Child Brushing - Although parents can begin teaching their children to brush at age three, they should continue to supervise brushing until age 11. Of those children who brush their teeth without supervision, more than half started before the age of six.

Physical Dexterity - Parents should ensure that their children are using a toothbrush specifically designed for a child's mouth and grip. Eighty-seven percent of parents agree that physical dexterity affects a child's ability to brush, but only 67 percent of children are using a manual toothbrush designed for children.

Proper Amount of Toothpaste - No more than a pea-sized amount of toothpaste should be used. Parents have shown dramatic improvement in understanding the proper amount of toothpaste a child should use to brush. Only 44 percent of parents use more than the recommended pea-sized amount, compared with 72 percent in 1996.

Regularly Scheduled Dental Visits Children should have regularly scheduled dental visits (on average, every six months), beginning when the first tooth appears, but not later than 12 months of age. Seventy-seven percent of children who visit a dentist do so two times per year.

"This study is important to the AAPD in helping us discover ways in which to educate parents and children about proper oral care," explained Dr. Rutkauskas. "The results will allow us to examine the current oral care routines of children and develop materials that will fit parents' informational needs."

"Helping children and adults have healthy teeth for life is Oral-B's mission," said Bruce Cleverly, president of Gillette Oral Care, explaining Oral-B's sponsorship of the study. "We believe that good oral health begins with informed parents. By understanding parental attitudes, Oral-B can contribute both to the success of pediatric dental professionals in treating children and to the development of oral care products that meet a child's needs."

A total of 1,000 households with expectant mothers and mothers of children, newborn through 12 years old, were surveyed by telephone in January 2002.

AAPD and AAPD Foundation
The AAPD is a professional specialty organization dedicated to improving and maintaining the oral health of infants, children, adolescents and persons with special health care needs. Established in 1987, the AAPD Foundation supports and promotes education, research, service and policy development projects to advance the oral health of infants and children, through adolescence, including those with special health care needs. Over the next three years, the AAPD Foundation will conduct its first public education campaign, "Good Health Starts Here." This campaign will target caregivers, adolescents and health care professionals who serve children to educate them that oral health is an essential component of general health and to promote methods these groups can perform on themselves or children under their care to prevent oral disease and maintain health.