RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — February is Children’s Dental Health Month, and the Virginia Dental Association is encouraging parents to schedule an appointment for their kids after an uptick in “COVID Cavities.”
The Virginia Dental Association recently analyzed data from the National Survey of Children’s Health and found that decayed teeth and cavities are up an estimated 44% among Virginia kids. The findings showed that approximately 130,237 Virginia children experienced decayed teeth or cavities from 2018-2019. However, that number jumped to 187,762 from 2020-2021.
Leaders say the dramatic spike is the result of delayed dental care during the early part of the pandemic.
“Many of our children’s dental hygiene visits were disrupted at the onset of the pandemic,” said Virginia Dental Association President, Cynthia Southern, DDS, MS.
Data from the Journal of the American Dental Association revealed that the likelihood of a child visiting the dentist in 2020 was 27% lower than in 2019. Meanwhile, children in 2020 were 75% more likely to have poor dental health than in 2019.
The trend was noticed among lower-income families as well. Virginia’s Smiles for Kids Medicaid program is experiencing similar declines as the percentage of youth utilizing dental benefits decreased from about 56% in 2019 to 48% in 2022.
Experts warn that failing to prioritize dental care at an early age may lead to tooth decay, which affects about half of U.S. children by the time they enter school. Luckily, there are a couple of ways to stop it, according to Virginia Academy of Pediatric Dentistry President Elizabeth Berry, DDS, MSD, MPH.
“There are two essential ways to prevent tooth decay: One is to brush your child’s teeth twice a day. The second is to establish a dental home with a dentist for your child no later than one year of age. Prevention is key to preventing this disease,” Berry said.
Southern also stressed the importance of parents taking their kids to the dentist as soon as possible, as waiting can contribute to the negative statistics we are seeing now.
“When you start the habit of seeing the dentist regularly as a child, you build trust and positive associations with taking care of your oral health and smiling with confidence,” she said. “A cavity won’t get better on its own without treatment. And we’re seeing many ‘COVID cavities’ today. This February and beyond, we’re urging all caregivers to not delay dental visits for their children.”
Virginia residents can find a local dentist at https://findadentist.ada.org/.