Do untreated caries (cavities) and oral health problems indicate child neglect?
The ability to pay for dental treatment is the main reason why parents avoid to provide the appropriate dental treatment for their children. However, in Ontario, the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care provides a dental program called “Healthy Smiles” which assures that children are covered for dental treatment by providing free dental coverage for children under the age of 17. Failure by a parent or guardian to seek treatment for visually untreated caries, oral infections and pain, or to follow through with treatment once informed by a dental professional that the conditions exist is considered neglect.
Indicators of dental neglect include:
- untreated, rampant caries that can be easily detected by a lay person
- untreated bleeding or trauma in the mouth
- lack of continuity of care in the presence of previously identified dental problems
Many parents plead ignorance when it comes to the caries seen in baby bottle tooth decay, believing that the primary teeth will eventually be lost. Parents must know that:
- Some primary (or baby) teeth will be in your child’s mouth until age 12. The tooth that needs to be fixed may be one of those and if not fixed it may affect the health of the adult tooth.
- Broken teeth or teeth that are infected can hurt your child’s health and the way your child feels about him or herself.
- To do a filling, the dentist removes the decay and “fills” the hole with metal, plastic or other material. A filling can be a cheap and easy way to fix a problem that could be painful and cost more later because it stops decay from spreading deeper into the tooth.
- If a filling is not done and decay spreads, the tooth may need to be pulled out. If this happens, your child may need a space maintainer to hold space for the permanent tooth.
- When a baby (or primary) tooth is missing, the teeth on each side may move into the space. They can block the permanent tooth from coming in. To hold the space, your dentist may put a plastic or metal space maintainer on the teeth on each side of the space, to keep the teeth from moving in.
A parent’s failure to act after being properly informed about the nature of the problem and the specific treatment needed is considered negligence of the child’s dental health.
For information on Child Dental Neglect Click HERE, Page 389.
For information on the Healthy Smiles Program Click HERE.