When should kids go to the dentist? 40 per cent haven’t been by age 4

Watch video above: When should kids go to the dentist? Carey Marsden reports. 

TORONTO – At what age did you start bringing your toddler to the dentist? Having your child’s teeth examined could help stave off future dental problems but a new study warns that 40 per cent of four-year-olds still haven’t been to the dentist.

Pediatricians recommend that kids head to the dentist before the age of one. Dr. Jonathon McGuire, a St. Michael’s Hospital pediatrician, says that dental disease is the most common chronic disease in childhood.

“It is a crisis. I think we need to get serious about children’s oral health, because it affects the future of our children. Dental disease is sneaking around behind the scenes without us paying too much attention to it,” McGuire told Global News.

“A lot of parents don’t know that early cavities can have long-lasting effects for children,” he said.

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McGuire led a study that looked at more than 2,500 kids who were around four years old. One per cent of one-year-olds — the recommended age — went to the dentist. Only two per cent of two year olds had their teeth examined. By the time kids turned four years old, 40 per cent still hadn’t been to the dentist.

If kids went to the dentist, 24 per cent of the time they had at least one cavity.

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The kids who are most susceptible to cavities were least likely to have visited the dentist earlier on in life. McGuire said that decision can have life-long consequences.

“It can cause cosmetic changes to the face, for example, if baby teeth fall out, often the adult teeth don’t grow in properly and that can have long-term effects. Not to mention pain from having cavities in your mouth – it can interfere with feeding and nutritional status. It can affect their development and learning,” McGuire said.

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McGuire’s study also suggests that parents set the standard: if they were heading to the dentist themselves, so were their kids. Keep in mind, dental care is not part of Canada’s universal health care system and is primarily provided in private practice settings. (The Canadian Paediatric Society has called for publicly funded preventative dental care for kids — it recommends that children should see a dentist by one year old.)

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Having never been to the dentist was linked to lower family income, prolonged bottle use and a higher daily intake of sugary drinks, such as juice.

With each cup of sweetened drink a child consumed daily, the odds of never visiting the dentist increased by 20 per cent. McGuire’s advice? Stick to water to keep your kids hydrated.

“There’s really no nutritional value in juice. We should consider juice like pop,” he said.

READ MORE: Parents’ feeding habits may be increasing childhood obesity

The researchers suggest that doctors need to intervene and tell their patients that they should book a dentist’s appointment for their kids. Both family doctors and dentists should also receive some training in learning more about teeth, especially in early childhood.

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The study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, stems from the TARGet Kids! project led by St. Michael’s Hospital, Sick Kids and the University of Toronto.

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Launched about four years ago, the project brings together family doctors, pediatricians, researchers and educators. So far, about 4,000 kids are enrolled in the long-term study that hopes to follow babies into adulthood, offering a life-long glimpse into the health of Canadians.

While McGuire’s study was based solely on Toronto kids, the project was extended last year to include preschoolers in Winnipeg and Montreal.

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