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University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Children Should Have First Oral Health Risk Assessment at Six Months

PITTSBURGH, May 13, 2003 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tooth decay may possibly be the most common infectious disease among children, with more than 40 percent of children in the United States experiencing tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten.

In an effort to prevent tooth decay in children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has published a policy statement in the May issue of Pediatrics entitled Oral Health Risk Assessment Timing and Establishment of the Dental Home. In the statement they recommend that every child have an oral health risk assessment by six months of age and establish a relationship with a pediatric dentist by 12 months.

What many people don't realize is that dental caries is contagious. They know about other contributing factors like eating sugary foods, inadequate fluoride intake and allowing a child to sleep with a bottle, but they are unaware dental caries can easily be passed from mother to child, said Deborah Studen-Pavlovich, D.M.D., chair, department of pediatric dentistry, University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine . We support the AAPs recommendations and partnering with the dental community. We hope that through early screening and education, we can stop tooth decay in children from a young age so they don't have to experience the effects later.

Tooth decay, an infectious disease, can affect children's growth, lead to malocclusion and result in significant pain and potentially life-threatening swelling.

Since most children are more likely to be seen by a pediatrician than by a dentist at six months, the AAP recommends that the pediatrician or a qualified pediatric health care professional completes the oral health risk assessment. The evaluation will determine the potential for decay by evaluating the primary caregivers oral health and oral hygiene habits, which have been found to correlate with that of the infant.

The AAP also recommends that each child have an established dental home, by the time they reach 12 months of age, or six months after their first tooth erupts. The dental home should be a dentist who specializes in pediatric dental care and provides the child with an individualized dental health program, guidance on oral health issues that can arise throughout development and information regarding referrals to dental specialists and how to handle dental emergencies.

A copy of the policy statement can be found at the AAPWeb site.

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