KFL&A Public Health sees ‘alarming increase’ in tooth decay in school-aged children

Photo by Nadezhda Moryak.

Recent data from Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health shows a concerning increase in tooth decay among school-aged children.

According to a release from KFL&A Public Health, school dental screening results from last year show that 40 per cent of children in senior kindergarten have experienced tooth decay. This is an increase of 60 per cent since 2019, an “alarming increase,” the local Health Unit said.

“Local dentists are seeing first-hand the dramatic increase in severe tooth decay among children and youth,” said Dr. Jennifer Archibald, a pediatric dentist in Kingston. “Untreated tooth decay can significantly impact children’s health and well-being, and many children experience dental pain while waiting for dental treatment. This can affect all aspects of their lives, including the foods they are able to eat, their quality of sleep, focus at school, and overall enjoyment of daily activities.”

Public Health noted that tooth decay is painful and can lead to serious infection if left untreated. According to the release, there are many actions that can be taken to help improve oral health in our community.

“Tooth decay is a complex problem, and we need several layers of prevention,” said Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health at KFL&A Public Health. “It is important to take care of children’s teeth by helping them brush their teeth twice a day, floss every day, and limit sugary drinks. Regular visits to the dentist are another important action to take.”

In April 2023, the KFL&A Board of Health learned that tooth decay has become a crisis in the region, through a presentation focused on the problem of increasing instances of tooth decay, urgent dental needs in children, the severe impact of poor oral health on overall health, and the toll it takes on the health care system. Community water fluoridation had a key role in the presentation as one community-wide measure that could — and in the KFL&A Public Health team’s opinion, should — be implemented to curb the crisis.

Municipal water in the KFL&A region does not have optimal levels of fluoride, which puts residents at higher risk of tooth decay, Public Health stated, noting that this layer of prevention doesn’t require action by individuals and benefits everyone. The City of Kingston was exploring the possible implementation of a water flouridation program in early 2020, however, that initiative was put on pause to allow the City to address more pressing matters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

KFL&A Public Health wants residents to know that they offer dental services and education to promote oral health in our region. Dental hygienists visit elementary schools to provide dental screening, which is mandated across Ontario. KFL&A Public Health also offers fluoride varnish and education in schools and community clinics.

According to the release, there is funding to help families with the cost of taking their child to the dentist. Families can contact KFL&A Public Health’s dental team for help accessing dental care through the following avenues:

  • Healthy Smiles Ontario (HSO) provides free dental care for eligible children 17 years of age and under. Children with urgent dental needs can receive one year of free dental treatment if families are unable to pay, even if they don’t qualify for ongoing HSO services. 
  • For children under 12 years of age, the Canada Dental Benefit provides a tax-free payment, based on income, for families without any existing dental coverage.
  • KFL&A Public Health offers a dental hygiene clinic for children 17 years of age and under whose families are unable to pay. At this clinic, dental hygienists offer cleaning and fluoride treatments.  

For more information about these programs, contact the KFL&A Public Health dental team at 613-549-1232, ext. 1218 or visit kflaph.ca/PreventToothDecay.

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