|Dr. Rawle Philbert examines little Vivian Garcia while her mother and sister look on.|
Lucila Garcia brings all three of her children – Angela, 8; Vivian, 4, and even 4-month old baby Lucyllein – to the dental clinic at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center. Vivian recently had two teeth removed because they were extremely decayed and painful, and both she and her sister Angela are prone to cavities.
Garcia herself had not had regular dental care before she started getting treatment by the dentists at Lincoln, and has had to have several teeth extracted, even though she is only 28. The girls’ dentist is working with the whole family to get the decay under control and teach them how to practice good dental care, so the girls don’t lose any more teeth.
“I don’t want my girls to have the same problems with their teeth that I do,” Garcia said. “That’s why I am bringing them here for treatment, and keeping them away from sugar like the dentist told me.”
The family’s story follows a familiar pattern, said Dr. Rawle Philbert, Chairman of the Department of Dentistry and Oral Surgery at Lincoln Hospital.
“Children’s dental health frequently mirrors that of the parents, and that’s why it’s important for parents to have the children’s mouths and teeth examined beginning in infancy,” Dr. Philbert said.
Dr. Peter Catapano, Director of the Pediatric Dental Clinic at Bellevue Hospital Center, said it’s especially important to educate adults about the connection between their dental health and that of their children.
“It is easy to transport a variety of bacteria in the mouth from the mother or principal caregiver to the child. Mom tastes the food, then puts the spoon in baby’s mouth; the baby puts his hand in mom’s mouth, then in his mouth,” Dr. Catapano explained.
Poor dental health also exacerbates other illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, he said. The U.S. Surgeon General in the year 2000 made the connection between oral health and overall health, declaring that: “Oral health is essential to the general health and well-being of all Americans.”
As children get older, other issues come into play. Smoking can cause oral cancer, gum disease, bad breath and teeth stains. And tongue piercings not only harbor food and bacteria, but can erode the teeth and gums, said Dr. Victor Badner, Chairman of the Department of Dentistry/ Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at Jacobi Medical Center and North Central Bronx Hospital.
“We actually took the two front teeth out of a 21-year-old who had a tongue piercing,” Dr. Badner said.
Dental care is available to children and adults at most HHC hospitals and large clinics. In Fiscal Year 2010, HHC dental clinics saw 109,431 patients, and about 25 percent of them were children and teenagers. HHC dental services include preventive and restorative care; crowns, bridges and implants; oral surgery, emergency care, and jaw surgery and reconstruction.