Childhood cavities lead to significant physical, emotional, social and economic distress

Global research from Colgate-Palmolive company, the worldwide leader in oral care, reveals the effect of childhood cavities on children and parents’ quality of life and wellbeing, offering a compelling reason to prioritise oral health education especially during the National Dental Hygiene Month celebration in the United States (US).

Colgate conducted a survey of more than 20,000 parents across 12 countries to uncover the real-world impact of tooth decay. Among the 1,800 parents surveyed in the US, Colgate found 62% of children suffer from cavities – and these cavities are the source of significant physical, emotional, social, and economic distress. The study draws another link between oral health and overall wellbeing and supports Colgate’s purpose to reimagine a healthier future for all.

Impact of cavities on emotional wellbeing

According to the US parents surveyed, Colgate finds children experiencing oral health issues feel embarrassed (30%), worried (30%), sad (28%), and anxious (24%). Children with cavities also feel they cannot smile freely (27%) and are not able to concentrate (20%).

The toll of childhood cavities extends to parents too, with US parents experiencing worry (50%), sadness (36%), and anxiety (25%) as a result of their kids’ pain and emotional distress. On top of it, 42% of parents whose children are experiencing oral health issues feel they have failed their child by not preventing their oral health issues, causing this subset of parents to feel ashamed (67%) and embarrassed (64%).

Impact of cavities on childhood development, adults’ livelihood, and the strength of the communities

The consequences of cavities in early life go beyond physical pain or emotional issues, with children missing valuable opportunities to learn, play, and grow; and adults taking time off work.

Colgate’s study reveals how oral health issues hinder a child’s education and social development. Of the children experiencing cavities in the US, nearly half miss up to three days of school, whether due to pain or for dental treatments. Between a third and a quarter of children with cavities in the US either need to miss social events and athletic activities due to pain or embarrassment or are just not interested in participating. The parents surveyed report their children avoid these extracurricular activities when they have cavities due to mixed feelings of confusion, powerlessness, and anger; as a result, they often miss milestones essential for their development, such as birthday parties, playing with friends, sports games, and family occasions.

The data points to ramifications for adults too. Colgate finds that more than half of parents in the US take time off from their jobs to deal with their children’s cavities, sacrificing up to three days of work. When taken in sum, these lost hours have a significant impact on the economy: according to the CDC, over US$45 billion is lost in productivity in the US each year because of untreated oral disease.

Oral health linked to overall wellbeing

Colgate’s study builds upon a strong foundation of research that connects oral health and overall health. Colgate’s public health survey points to the toll of childhood cavities on mental health for children and parents alike, as well as the impact on social and economic development. For adults, oral health has also been linked in other studies to physical health conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, diabetes, adverse pregnancy outcomes, pneumonia, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis – even oral cancer.

“Overall health, emotional health and community health can all depend on oral health,” said Dr Maria Ryan, chief clinical officer of Colgate. “Colgate-Palmolive’s global study underscores the fact that oral health is a key factor to unlocking a brighter, healthier future for kids, their parents, and our communities. During National Dental Hygiene Month, and all year long, Colgate is on a mission to help people through all stages of life to understand the connections between oral and overall health, because if we do that, we move one step closer to reimagining a healthier future for all.”

Colgate-Palmolive and oral health

With the Colgate brand in more homes than any other, Colgate-Palmolive is uniquely positioned to address the global crisis of oral disease, which affects nearly half of the world’s population. Colgate is spreading the important message that a healthy future begins with good oral health, while taking steps to increase access to oral health education and remove barriers to oral care worldwide.

“Despite being largely preventable with simple, cost-effective tools such as the toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste along with a healthy diet, cavities remain the most common chronic disease among children globally. It doesn’t have to be this way. Oral health has long been overlooked, and now is the time to take action. A healthy mouth is a foundational building block for our own wellbeing and the strength of our communities, and that’s why Colgate is committed to promoting oral health access and education across the globe,” said Dr Ryan.