Progress and Perspective
Every February, oral health professionals celebrate National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM). An initiative of the American Dental Association, the commemoration is meant to bring attention to the oral health needs of children and adolescents with a specific theme. This year, the theme is “Sealants Make Sense.” While oral health professionals are aware of the preventive power of sealants, many patients and parents are not. Subsequently, sealant use is still relatively low considering the therapy was developed in the 1960s. Data from 2016 show that less than half of children ages 6 to 11 have dental sealants.1 From a dental hygienist’s perspective, I was happy to see this year’s NCDHM focus on a preventive measure such as sealants, especially in light of the recently released document from the National Institutes of Health, “Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges.”2
WHILE ORAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS ARE AWARE OF THE PREVENTIVE POWER OF SEALANTS, MANY PATIENTS AND PARENTS ARE NOT.
As the follow-up document to the 2000 Surgeon General’s report, “Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges” assessed both the good and bad news related to oral health over the past 20 years. As stated in the introduction, “… as the title suggests, in the last 20 years, there has been progress in some areas, and in others, a collective realization that far more work needs to be done.” Areas of focus in the report include identification of oral health disparities along with discussing potential areas of innovation in prevention and treatment. The report is divided into numerous categories such as descriptions of the current state of the oral health workforce and the impact of oral health on the community, overall well-being, and the economy. The bulk of the document, however, includes suggestions on maintaining oral health across the lifespan with specific highlights for children, adolescents, and adults. Some key takeaways for children and adolescents include:
- About half of all American children do not receive regular dental care because of social, economic, and geographic obstacles.
- Integrating dental care within family and pediatric medical care settings is improving children’s oral health.
- More effective approaches to preventing and treating dental cavities are emerging from better understanding of the social determinants of health, high-risk behaviors, and caregiver and provider oral health literacy.
- About half of all adolescents will experience dental caries; there has been little improvement in the past 20 years.
- Risk-taking behaviors that commonly occur in adolescence, such as tobacco and substance use, as well as the first occurrence of some mental health problems, can affect adolescents’ long-term oral health.
I encourage all oral health professionals to read this report, especially during this NCDHM. It can serve as a blueprint on how to tackle the oral health challenges we face now and into the future. And prevention is a big part of that future.
Jill Rethman, RDH, BA
Editor in Chief
- United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oral Health Surveillance Report: Trends in Dental Caries and Sealants, Tooth Retention, and Edentulism, United States, 1999–2004 to 2011–2016. Available at: cdc.gov/oralhealth/publications/OHSR-2019-index.html. Accessed January 15, 2022.
- National Institutes of Health. Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges. Available at: nidcr.nih.gov/sites/default/files/2021-12/Oral-Health-in-America-Advances-and-Challenges.pdf. Accessed January 15, 2022.
From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. February 2022; 20(2)6.