Building Support for Child Oral Health

Earlier this year, I met with a corporate CEO to talk about child oral health. He was knowledgeable about many child health issues, but he had no idea tooth decay is the #1 chronic disease affecting kids. Sadly, few of us are aware of this “silent epidemic.”

Fortunately, great work is underway to improve child oral health. “Cavities Get Around” is our long-term public will building initiative to raise awareness of this epidemic.

A few years ago, we saw the need for a visible movement to promote child oral health. Tooth decay is nearly 100% preventable. We were inspired by what was happening with childhood obesity thanks to the work of First Lady Michelle Obama and many others. Two questions surfaced as we considered how to spark a movement to wipe out childhood tooth decay:

  1. How might we raise public awareness of the importance of child oral health?
  2. How could we make child oral health a priority for decision-makers shaping policies and environments?

Our team engaged several partners and conducted extensive research. We conducted literature reviews, environmental scans, focus groups, statewide surveys, and in-home visits. We also interviewed community leaders. This helped us learn as much as we could about attitudes, knowledge and behaviors when it comes to child oral health. Key learnings included:

  • Baby teeth matter and they need to be protected. Many people think baby teeth don’t matter since they fall out anyway, but cavities spread from baby teeth to adult teeth. This leads to costly, painful dental problems later in life.
  • Good nutrition is just as important as brushing. People are surprised to learn sugar fuels bacteria that cause decay. This is a big problem for young kids because the enamel on their baby teeth is especially thin. Juice is a big culprit behind childhood tooth decay.

Many people don’t know how much sugar is in juice. From our survey, we learned:

  • 87% of parents said their children drink juice several times a week.
  • 55% said juice is the most likely beverage their child drinks.
  • 72% said they believe juice is healthy for their children.

This is largely due to how juice is marketed and packaged, because juice can have as much sugar as soda. Check out this video to see for yourself. Water is the best drink for children.

These findings led to the Cavities Get Around campaign. This award-winning, bilingual campaign works at the community level to reach families and local leaders. It goes beyond just asking families to serve children only water between meals and at bedtime. We’re engaging policymakers who can help lead change to make water, especially tap water, the “default” beverage. Recently our efforts were recognized by the Colorado Healthcare Communicators with a Gold Leaf Award in Public Affairs. With support like this, along with media coverage, our partners and the community, we can all help children develop a healthy, beautiful smile for life.

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