That sip sent the most excruciating shooting pain from my lower jaw straight down to my toes.
It didn’t let up. The intensely agonizing “zinger” lasted probably just a minute or two – but it felt like an eternity. I had never experienced tooth pain like this in my life, and couldn’t get to the dentist fast enough. Even though the pain was intermittent, anything slightly colder than room temperature sent me into a dance of distress.
It turned out I had a crack in one of my lower back molars – a symptom of years of clenching my teeth while I sleep.
I can’t help but think of that experience as I’ve been researching the effects of tooth decay in children for an e-book I’m co-authoring. The book focuses on the prevention of tooth decay in children around the world, outlines specific country challenges and highlights stories from advocates who fight to defend kids' teeth.
Children with chronically painful teeth have trouble getting a good night’s sleep. They can have a hard time relaxing, sitting still and paying attention in class.
But the pain produced from that single cracked-tooth incident last summer not only caused me to be unable to concentrate, it kept me from being able to see straight – much less do anything other than to just pray the pain would be ushered away. I can’t imagine living with pain like that – or anything even somewhat close to that – on a day-to-day basis.
It made reading some statements from experts heartbreaking. It’s hard to fathom the reality when Dave Perry, DDS, writes his perspective in the health assessment titled Mommy, It Hurts to Chew: “As a pediatric dentist, I treat children in pain every day. Often, they can’t even tell you they are in pain – their teeth have hurt for so long, they think it’s normal.”
The fact is that 60 to 90 percent of children worldwide have tooth decay, the majority of which goes untreated. Why? Lack of access to proper dental care, lack of education on how to properly brush teeth, and the absence of fluoridated water, to name a few.
Children with infected and painful teeth miss more school days than other children, disrupting their educational and social development. And ugly, rotten or missing teeth due to decay and difficulty talking without pain can greatly exacerbate the natural shyness in childhood. The pain they experience truly limits kids’ future opportunities.
The real tragedy? Tooth pain is 90 percent preventable, so there’s really no reason children should have to endure this kind of suffering.
Thankfully, dental public health professionals around the world dedicate their careers (and lives) to working with communities and populations to fight tooth decay in children. Sealants are a real hero in this fight, too. They can help reduce tooth decay by more than 70 percent. But many kids just don’t have access to receiving them. That’s why it’s so amazing that organizations are helping to implement school sealant programs, which help millions of children receive sealants right at their own schools.
Francisco Ramos-Gomez, professor of pediatric dentistry at UCLA and passionate advocate for the rights of disadvantaged young children to good oral health care, shares this rallying cry: “Dental health providers can make a big difference; they can become really impactful advocates for oral health in their countries. And to actually bring the issue of oral health as an issue of human rights, social justice, and it’s an issue of equity as well.”
Every citizen deserves access to quality oral care – especially children. Join 3M and the Oral Health Council in their mission to empower countries and communities to fight tooth decay, and learn how you can make an impact in your own community by going to www.3M.com/whyteethmatter.