A Dental Home: Why is it Important to Children’s Health?

What is a Dental Home?

The Dental Home is a concept that comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics’ “medical home.”  A “medical home” is a pediatrician’s practice where a child has a relationship with that provider.  It is well-established that children that have a medical home are healthier, have fewer hospitalizations and emergency room visits. They also have better managed chronic illnesses. This is because of the “patient centered / family centered” approach of the medical home where doctors are accountable to developing sustained partnerships with patients and families to address a majority of their healthcare needs.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry defined the Dental Home in 2006 as follows:

“The dental home is the ongoing relationship between the dentist and the patient, inclusive of all aspects of oral health care delivered in a comprehensive, continuously accessible, coordinated, and family-centered way. The dental home should be established no later than 12 months of age to help children and their families institute a lifetime of good oral health. A dental home addresses anticipatory guidance and preventive, acute, and comprehensive oral health care and includes referral to dental specialists when appropriate.”

American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, Council on Clinical Affairs, Definition of Dental Home.

As such, there are four major components of the Dental Home :

  1. Continuous Access to Care
  2. High Quality Oral Health Care (Children’s Dentistry)
  3. Coordination of Care with timely referral when appropriate
  4. Provision of Preventative Care

Why is a Dental Home Important?

Oral Health Care

Dental Caries, called tooth decay or cavities, is the most common infectious disease in U.S. children. 40% of children will have tooth decay by the time they are in kindergarten. Cavities occur in all racial and socioeconomic groups. In fact, cavities are 5 times more common than asthma and 7 times more common than hay fever. This is despite the fact that tooth decay is a disease that is preventable.

When cavities are not treated, children can have pain and infection that can lead to eating problems, speech delays, difficulty in school and learning, as well as future problems with erupting permanent teeth.  Education and prevention of cavities is one of the responsibilities of the dental home, and prevention of cavities can save children from surgical treatment later on. Also, oral health is critically important to the overall health and wellness of infants, children, and young adults.

When Should My Child See A Pediatric Dentist & Have a Dental Home?

Your baby should have their first dental visit when the first tooth erupts or by the first birthday, whichever occurs first.

Many parents ask why so early? There are a several reasons for seeing the dentist by the age of 1:

  • Teeth are at risk of cavities as soon as the tooth erupts into the mouth
  • Bacterium causes cavities.  Babies get these bacteria from parents, typically between the age of 6 months to 30 months. This is the best time to start prevention.
  • Visiting a pediatric dentist early enables the establishment of a dental home and begins a lifelong oral health programs to minimize tooth decay
  • Research suggest children who wait to have the first dental visit at age two or three are much more likely to require surgical treatment of cavities and emergency dental visits
  • The Journal of Pediatrics demonstrated that children who had the first dental visit before the age of 1 had 40% lower dental costs, on average, during the first five years of life when compared to children who had the first dental visit later.
  • Waiting to the age of 3 is too late for prevention and often means that there will be treatment needs at the first dental visit.