By Dental Tribune.

GENEVA, Switzerland: Maintaining a healthy mouth is crucial to keeping it functioning correctly and to maintaining general health and well-being. Ahead of World Oral Health Day, celebrated annually on 20 March to raise global awareness of the prevention and control of oral disease, the FDI World Dental Federation asked parents around the globe how they cared for their children’s oral health growing up. Their responses suggested room for improvement.

The survey, carried out online in ten countries and completed by 11,552 adults in total, found that only 13 per cent of parents with children aged 18 and under had taken their child to the dentist before their first birthday—the recommended age for the first dental visit. Most parents first had taken their child to the dentist when he or she was between 1 and 3 years old (24 per cent) or between 4 and 6 years old (22 per cent). Alarmingly, 20 per cent of parents reported never having taken their child for a dental check-up.

“It’s worrying to learn that most children are not getting a dental check-up at the recommended age,” said FDI President Dr Kathryn Kell. “Good oral health habits start early. Parents should visit the dentist after their child’s first tooth starts erupting as a preventive measure to avoid risk of developing early childhood caries. Oral disease can impact every aspect of life and is associated with many general health conditions. This World Oral Health Day, we want people to make the connection between their oral health and general health and understand the impact that one has on the other. Knowing how to protect your mouth and body at all ages contributes to a better quality of life.”

Half of the parents who had taken their child to the dentist identified the reason as being a regular dental check-up. However, while this was the most frequent answer in the UK (82 per cent), Sweden (77 per cent), Argentina (65 per cent), France (63 per cent), the US (63 per cent), Australia (56 per cent) and China (34 per cent), the most reported response for having gone to the dentist in Egypt, the Philippines and Morocco was pain or discomfort in their child’s mouth (56 per cent, 43 per cent and 38 per cent, respectively).

More than 43 per cent of the parents said that they personally ensured that their child’s teeth were brushed before bedtime to avoid oral disease—a key message promoted by the FDI. The survey also found that 40 per cent of parents supervised their child’s toothbrushing twice a day, and 38 per cent of them said they limited sugary foods and drinks in their child’s diet to prevent oral disease. Only 26 per cent reported personally having cleaned their child’s teeth from as soon as the first tooth erupted, and just 8 per cent mentioned having encouraged their child to wear a mouth guard when playing sport.

The FDI recommends practising good oral care, avoiding risk factors such as an unhealthy diet—particularly one high in sugar—and having regular dental check-ups to protect oral health and general health at all ages. Parents should start cleaning their child’s teeth before bedtime with the eruption of the first tooth, supervise toothbrushing twice a day with a small amount of fluoride toothpaste, and schedule regular dental check-ups, starting no later than the first birthday.