Oral Health Habits Inherited by Kids

***UPDATED: April 6, 2015*** Dental phobia is a condition that has millions of individuals avoiding the dentist out of fear and anxiety of all things dentistry related. Skipping regular examinations and cleanings can lead to a plethora of health problems, which has researchers trying to understand it even more in an effort to overcome this sometimes debilitating condition. Recently, a team of investigators analyzed the interviews of over 1,300 parents of children, ages 12 and under, about their dental experiences, with rather interesting results. Researchers found that nearly 50% of participants were afraid of visiting the dentist, which is subsequently about the same number of kids who reported the same sentiment. Additionally, the analysis discovered that more female survey participants had dental phobia, and the main reason for nervousness before a dental appointment was fear of pain, followed by not liking the dentist and fear of additional dental work. This study also confirmed earlier findings that parents with dental phobia pass their fear on to their children, according to a recent Dental Tribune article. Inheriting this fear could significantly influence a child’s likelihood of receiving regular oral health care later in life, potentially leading to serious health conditions.

The oral health of children has been a hot topic in the dental world with nearly 25% of kids experiencing tooth decay by the ripe young age of five.  Consult any reputable health organization and you will find that it is widely recommended that kids start seeing a dentist by the time their first tooth erupts, or the age of one, whichever comes first.  It is believed that early attention to oral hygiene can reverse this frightening trend and help eliminate the growing oral disease epidemic sweeping the globe.  Unfortunately, this theory isn’t being tested too seriously, as a recent Dental Tribune article reports that one in every seven children has their first dental visit not as a preventative measure as hoped, but instead as a result of an oral health emergency.  Further examination into this statistic found that the attitude of caregivers toward their own oral health has a significant influence over their children’s dental care patterns.

The study was conducted using data previously collected in the Carolina Oral Health Literacy study which took place in 2007 and 2008.  Over 1,000 caregiver/child pairs were assessed, examining their oral health status, health literacy, dental neglect, and access to care barriers.  The average age of the children participants was 16 months, and approximately 40% of them had not visited the dentist yet.  In general, the kids who reported oral health problems were more likely to enter the dental care system than those who had better oral health, most of whom were in need of emergency care.  Additionally, the children whose caregivers neglected their own oral health were more likely not to enter the dental care system.

The findings in this study echo those of another in which a survey found that parents who are afraid of the dentist often pass their dental phobia on to their children.  The study, conducted last year, surveyed over 900 primary caregivers of kids ages 0-11 and found that almost 30% of the kids were afraid to visit the dentist.  That numbered jumped to 40% when a child had a parent who was also afraid of dental visits.  Causes of anxiety were cited as fear of pain due to sensitive teeth (17%), noise and smell (11%), drills and other dental equipment (10%), and injections and needles (9%).  Kids are obviously influenced by their parent’s thoughts and actions, making it crucial for caregivers to remain relaxed and calm during dental visits.  Children who have negative experiences at the dentist may be less likely to continue with regular visits as teens and adults, and therefore will find it difficult to achieve good oral health.  And because oral health has been linked to several chronic, severe health conditions, not visiting your dentist can affect more than just your teeth.  Your overall wellness is at stake.  If you experience dental phobia, you are not alone.  Thankfully, several professionals in the dental industry have gone to great lengths to help individuals who find themselves experiencing anxiety around their dental visits.  With so many options available, don’t let fear keep you, or your children, from achieving the best oral health possible.

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