Parents Are (Still) Confused About Kids’ Dental Health

Generational differences are evident in various areas of life, such as the workplace and parenting styles, but there is a similarity when it comes to how baby boomers, Gen X, and millennials approach oral health. Parents of all three generations have a mixed understanding about their children’s oral health, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) reports.

Although millennial parents (aged 18 to 37) are more likely to take their children to the dentist by their first birthday than any other generation (29%), knowledge gaps persist, the study finds.

“While it’s encouraging to know so many parents value oral health, the survey reveals parents need more information on the first steps to take when it comes to creating an overall foundation for the health and well-being of their child,” says Joe Castellano, DDS, AAPD president and pediatric dentist.

Although the AAPD recommends scheduling the first dental visit by/no later than a child’s first birthday or with the eruption of the first tooth, the report found only a quarter (26%) of parents take their child to the dentist by his or her first birthday.

Only 19% of Gen X (aged 38 to 53) parents make it to the dentist during that first year; 30% of parents took their child to the dentist for the first time at age 2, and 18% visited the dentist for the first time at age 3.

Establishing a dental home no later than 1 year; practicing an at-home oral hygiene program of flossing, tooth brushing, and other treatments; and maintaining regular dental visits are imperative to the prevention of tooth decay. However, while 96% of parents say oral health is important to their family, most don’t think toothaches are a serious ailment. Those parents surveyed ranked toothaches behind stomach aches, earaches, headaches, and sore throats.

“The main reason parents don’t take their child to the dentist by age 1 is that they don’t know they are supposed to,” Castellano says. “Education is key.”

The report surveyed a total of 1,003 Gen Xers, baby boomers (age 54 to 72), and millennial parents in the United States with kids aged 12 or younger to get further insight to how these groups prioritize oral health.

Parents are advised to encourage good brushing habits at home. But only half of parents (49%) with kids ages 4 to 7 actually help their children brush their teeth. Millennials (52%) are more likely to regularly help their kids brush their teeth every time compared with 43% of Gen Xers.

Maintaining a balanced diet is also an important part of keeping caries away. And swapping fruit pouches and granola bars for healthier on-the-go snacks like cheese and carrots will help. Unfortunately 49% of parents believe pureed fruit pouches are healthy for kids’ teeth, but pouches have concentrated sugars that stick to pits and fissures, creating an ideal environment for caries-causing bacteria, Steptococcus mutans.

While there is still more work to do in this area, the survey indicates millennial parents are well on their way to promoting oral health as a lifelong priority.

“Hopefully millennial parents will instill this behavior in their children and a dental home by age 1 will become the norm in future generations,” says Castellano.

To learn more about a comprehensive approach to early childhood caries, click here:

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