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The Impact of Tooth Decay in Children

Did you know? Tooth decay is among the most common chronic conditions of childhood with 1 in 5 children (aged 5 to 11) and 1 in 7 children (aged 12 to 19) having at least one untreated decayed tooth (Centers for Disease Control). While the side effects of a decaying tooth will be felt immediately, they can also have lifelong impacts.

What is Tooth Decay?

According to Medline Plus, tooth decay is damage to a tooth's surface (enamel) and occurs when bacteria in the mouth makes acids that attack the enamel. Tooth decay can lead to cavities (holes in your teeth) and other painful symptoms.

The Impact and Symptoms of Tooth Decay

When tooth decay goes untreated, children may experience:

  • Pain or difficulty when eating and speaking
  • Difficulty with day-to-day activities such as socializing and sleeping
  • Negative impacts on education such as missed school days or lower grades
  • Low self-esteem
  • Additional dental health issues
  • Poor overall health

Beyond the immediate impacts of poor dental health and tooth decay, children may face serious health problems later on in life as adults. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are "more than 125 health conditions that may affect or be affected by oral health, including cardiovascular disease, human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, HIV/AIDS, osteoporosis, obesity, and autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis." Additionally, the ADA reports that people who have tooth decay as children are more likely to have tooth decay as adults.

Disparities in Dental Care

Unfortunately, tooth decay and poor dental health disproportionately affect low-income children with limited access to dental care. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), tooth decay was twice as high for non-Hispanic black and Hispanic children compared to non-Hispanic white children aged 2 to 8. As a school nurse, you can help advocate for these children by promoting good oral health habits and providing students and families with best practices and education.

Click here to browse MacGill’s selection of oral care products.

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