As we’ve noted previously, children’s tooth decay continues to rise, often left untreated. We can imagine a few reasons parents might ignore the issue – from financial hardship to the belief that decay in primary teeth doesn’t really pose a problem since the teeth will just fall out anyway. The latter, of course, isn’t a valid reason for avoiding treatment, for if the decay goes deep before the tooth comes out, the child is apt to suffer pain and require a more invasive – and expensive – procedure than getting a filling: pulpotomy or even root canal.
While genetics play some factor in the tendency to develop cavities, on the whole, dental decay is largely preventable through things like eating a nutrient-rich diet that’s low in sugar and refined carbs, and keeping up good dental hygiene practices such as regular brushing and flossing.
Many school standards include the teaching of such habits starting in kindergarten. Such is the case here in California (PDF), for instance, and in Massachusetts (PDF). The latter, however, recently went one step further, mandating toothbrushing in some day care and preschool situations. As reported in the USA Today,
Kids in Massachusetts day care centers and preschools have a new activity to fit in between napping, coloring and snacking: They have to brush their teeth (or have them brushed by a staffer).
Under new regulations that took effect in January, Massachusetts became the first state to require tooth-brushing for kids who spend more than four hours a day or have meals in licensed centers.
The edict has prompted some complaints from already-busy child care workers and from parents who don’t want the hand of Big Brother in their children’s mouths (though parents can opt children out of the program). But “we’re also hearing lots of positive feedback,” says Sherri Killins, head of the state’s Department of Early Education and Care. “We think it’s the right policy.”
We think it’s the right policy, too, and, frankly, are a bit stumped as to why parents would object so strongly, especially when an opt-out clause is provided. (You can read some sample parent objections in this New York Times coverage of the program.) Would they object to staffers having or helping children wash their hands after playing outside but before eating a snack, or after using the toilet? So why let their kids be “Yuck Mouths”?
It seems there must be something peculiar about the dental aspect. Perhaps it seems too invasive, as staffers who help the youngest children must actually put a brush or soft cloth in the mouth of a child not old enough or able to care for his or her own teeth.
But maybe also it’s a sign of just how far we have to go to educate people that dental health isn’t separate from general health but part of the same, whole thing; that, as funny as it sounds to say, the mouth is in fact part of the whole body.