It’s tempting to look for a villain when it comes to childhood tooth decay. And it’s easy to. When confronted with caries in those early years, parents might blame their kid’s food and drink consumption. Or maybe the fact that they don’t brush twice a day. But the road to cavities isn’t one big highway. As it turns out, it’s a little more systematic. It needs a whole systems approach to treating the problem.
But what is a whole systems approach? It means tackling the issue of childhood tooth decay in all aspects. Preventing caries in the early years isn’t just relegated to personal oral hygiene or regular dental check-ups. It also involves efforts by local authorities and communities. Most importantly, it looks at risk factors and the areas most closely linked to them.
How, then, do you implement a whole systems approach to combating childhood tooth decay?
It’s all about engaging the community
When we talk about systems, we usually talk about large populations. And often, these populations—communities, in particular—have different needs than they do as individual members. To create a whole systems approach, one has to be able to engage the entire community.
How do you do this, then? It starts by looking at risk factors and needs. These usually differ depending on the location, because different places already have health policies in place. One community, for instance, might not have access to fluoridated water. Another neighborhood might tend to eat a high-sugar diet. Ultimately, looking at these risk factors can give you an idea of what needs to be done to prevent further instances of oral problems.
In the case of childhood tooth decay, you might opt to first look at what affects the condition. We know, for instance, that baby teeth tend to have thinner tooth enamel than permanent teeth do. Consuming food and drink that erode the outermost layer of the tooth puts kids at a higher risk for dental caries in the early years. Kids who get their first dental appointment much later also have a higher risk than those who are checked earlier.
This all depends on the community involved, however. In this case, one solution does not fit all. It’s best to get to the bottom of what your community needs.
The whole systems approach makes it easier to tend to one’s oral health
Ultimately, the goal of a whole systems approach is to make oral health convenient for the entire community. This is especially important for children in their early years when the risk factors prove the most critical.
When it comes to helping kids keep to their oral health, it’s often a monkey-see-monkey-do endeavor. Households that consume more sugary food and drink will have children who do the same. And those who lack oral hygiene resources will have kids who have a hard time keeping to an oral hygiene routine. The goal, then, is to provide these households with the needed resources to make dental care a priority.
In the end, then, one could say that fending off childhood tooth decay takes a village. And in a way, they’re right—particularly if they want to keep it that way.