Addressing the oral health of North Carolina’s children

How are teeth problems affecting child outcomes in North Carolina?

Dr. Ford Grant, DMD, director of general dentistry and clinical associate professor in the ECU School of Dental Medicine, responds to ECU Health Beat questions.

Q. In your experience, how do dental problems affect the academic success of children?

A. Since opening the first Community Service Learning Center (CSLC) in Ahoskie we have seen many children with extensive decay and abscessed teeth. These children experience oral pain on a daily basis. Their parents seem to be at a loss as to what is causing the problem. A recent study at the University of Southern California School of Dentistry found children with tooth pain were four times more likely to have a grade point average below the median. The study noted that children missed an average of six days in elementary school due to illness. Dental problems accounted for 2.1 days of the total. They also found that parents missed an average of 2.5 days of work per year to take their children to the dentist.

Q. How can more be done to help parents understand the importance of oral hygiene for their children?

A. Of course you cannot be healthy without a healthy mouth, to paraphrase former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. Many dental offices refuse to see children until they can behave and sit still. By then the damage is done, if good oral hygiene practices are not carried out at home. At the Ahoskie CSLC, we encourage parents to bring their children for an initial exam before the age of one, when the teeth are just starting to erupt. This exam is in the lap of the parent and the purpose is to teach the parent how to properly clean their child’s teeth and mouth. Bacteria infect the hard tissues of the teeth causing tooth decay or caries (cavities). You are not born with those bacteria in your mouth. It is passed to children from contact with another person’s saliva. We need to approach the problem in the way other infectious diseases are managed.

Q. How will the ECU School of Dental Medicine impact oral health awareness/education in North Carolina?

A. The ECU School of Dental Medicine will have an active pediatric dentistry program that will help train dentists to enter the community and take on these problems. At the CSLC, we will hope to be involved with health programs in the community to educate parents and new mothers to prevention of oral infections and decay. School based programs will be used to help encourage good nutritional and oral care practices for a lifetime.

For more on the USC study, go to: