In the battle against tooth decay, children's most powerful weapon is just a few inches above their mouth. It's their brain.
A firm grounding in oral health education can empower children to take control of their dental health and greatly reduce their risk of tooth decay, according to the Academy of General Dentistry, an organization of general dentists dedicated to continuing education. And as the U.S. surgeon general has made clear, good oral health is crucial to good overall health.
In experiments in the United States and Europe, children who learned about oral health as an integrated part of their school curriculum showed a marked decrease in tooth decay, according to an article in the December issue of AGD Impact, the Academy's monthly newsmagazine.
To help ensure children have the information they need to protect their teeth, the Academy has prompted the development of an oral health curriculum for U.S. schools and hopes to have a pilot program in place by the start of the 2003-2004 school year. "Most dental decay and trauma is preventable with regular dental care and healthy lifestyles," says Mark S. Ritz, DDS, MAGD, an Academy spokesperson. "Oral health education helps children and parents understand why regular dental care is important and why certain lifestyles are unhealthy. Once parents and children gain these understandings and act on them, the parents will find that their children can avoid the pain, suffering, and missed school days that result from dental decay and trauma."
Outside of school, parents can play an important role in boosting their children's oral health literacy. "The first step is to see that their children make regular dental visits," Dr. Ritz says. "A second step would be to let school administrators know about the benefits that an oral health curriculum can bring to children."
Parents can also take the lead by working with their children using resources that are readily available. Good sources for oral health information are your dentist, the local library, and on the World Wide Web.
With a good grounding in oral health and the discipline to act on their knowledge, children can look forward to a lifetime of good oral health.