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Preventive dental care and counseling for infants and young children

Arthur J Nowak, DMD
John J Warren, DDS, MS
Section Editor
Ann Griffen, DDS, MS
Deputy Editor
Mary M Torchia, MD


Many oral health problems, including dental caries, malocclusion, and fluorosis, begin in childhood and can be prevented through regular preventive dental care and counseling [1]. Despite the decrease in prevalence of dental caries among school-aged children from approximately 75 percent in the 1970s to 37 percent in 2011 to 2012 [2], caries continues to be one of the most common chronic diseases [3-8]. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that tooth decay in primary teeth of children aged two to five years has fluctuated since the 1980s, but has not declined overall, increasing from 24 percent in 1988 to 1994 to 28 percent in 1999 to 2004 [9] and then decreasing to 23 percent in 2011 to 2012 [2]. The oral health goals for Healthy People 2020 include [6]:

Decrease the proportion of three- to five-year-olds with caries in the primary dentition from 33 percent (1999 to 2004) to 30 percent

Decrease the proportion of six- to nine-year-old children with caries in the mixed dentition from 54 percent (1999 to 2004) to 49 percent

Decrease the proportion of adolescents with caries in the permanent dentition from 54 percent (1999-2004) to 48 percent

The provision of preventive dental care and counseling at regularly scheduled health maintenance visits is essential to the achievement of these goals and will be discussed below. Oral health habits are discussed separately. (See "Oral habits and orofacial development in children".)


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