There is nothing like the smile of a child. And according to results of a new study, it looks like the US is improving in habits that help keep these smiles healthy.
This new study looked at the oral health of children across the nation in 2003 and compared the data to the years 2011/2012.
The researchers found that preventive dentist visits increased and reported oral health improved during this time.
This study was led by Mahua Mandal, MPH, PhD, of the College of Dental Medicine and Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York.
According to Dr. Mandal and colleagues, "Oral health represents the largest unmet health care need for children, and geographic variations in children’s receipt of oral health services have been noted."
Experts recommend that children start going to the dentist every six months by the time they are 12 months old, Dr. Mandal and team noted.
To examine the oral health of children in the US, these researchers compared data from the 2003 and 2011/2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, a telephone survey for parents conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The parents were asked to categorize the condition of their children's teeth as either excellent, very good, fair or poor. Parents were also asked whether or not their children had been to a dentist in the past year for preventive care, like dental cleanings and check-ups.
The researchers examined surveys accounting for 96,510 children aged 1 to 17 years for the 2003 data and 90,555 children from the 2011/2012 data. The data was then used to estimate rates of preventive visits and general oral health in each of the US states.
Dr. Mandal and colleagues found that 67.7 percent of parents reported that their children had "excellent" or "very good" oral health in 2003, a number that increased to 71.9 percent in 2011/2012.
These researchers also found that the rate of children who were reported to have excellent or very good oral health increased in 26 states. Utah saw the greatest jump, from 69.1 percent to 79.2 percent.
The rate of parents who reported that their children went to at least one preventive dental visit increased as well, from 71.5 percent in 2003 to 77.0 percent in 2011/2012.
The prevalence of children who went to a preventive care dental visit increased in all but six US states. The District of Columbia saw the biggest increase, from 70.0 percent to 82.7 percent.
Though the data seemed to largely represent positive changes, the researchers did uncover some disparities between different groups of children.
"Significant improvements were seen among children in almost all categories of health insurance and household income, although oral health status of children without health insurance did not improve over time," wrote Dr. Mandal and colleagues.
"In both years, outcomes were better among children with health insurance than among those without and among children living in households with incomes above the [federal poverty line] than in those below. These findings suggest continued disparities in children’s oral health," they wrote.
The data for this study was self-reported by parents, which could allow for some room for error.
In an interview with dailyRx News, Dana Fort, DDS, who runs private dental practices in Illinois, explained the importance of getting an early start on children's oral health.
"Preventive oral care is important to start at a young age for children," said Dr. Fort. "It establishes healthy habits which are more likely to continue on into adulthood."
"By addressing small problems early, poor oral health behavior can be corrected, and further disease avoided," explained Dr. Fort.
This study was published December 5 in CDC's Preventing Chronic Disease. The research was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. No conflicts of interest were reported.'