Good dental hygiene is an important part of a child’s overall health and well-being. Poor oral hygiene or habits can lead to serious infections, gum disorders, cavities or other teeth problems. Developing good oral habits at an early age and scheduling regular dental visits help children to get a good start on a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. February is an important month that stresses the importance of children’s dental care as it marks the observance of “National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM)” in the United States. Sponsored by the American Dental Association (ADA), the month-long observance aims to generate widespread awareness about the importance of developing good dental hygiene habits at an early age to ensure a lifetime of healthy smiles. The campaign is a strong platform that brings together dental health professionals, parents, and teachers to give children the best start on oral health. Tooth decay or dental caries is one of the most common diseases affecting children (aged 6 to 11 years) and adolescents (aged 12 to 19 years) in the United States.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), dental caries is the second most popular health condition in the US. Also referred to as tooth cavities, the condition causes permanent destruction of tooth enamel (the hard, outer layer of the teeth) that develops into tiny openings or holes. If left untreated, the condition can become severe and affect the deeper layers of the teeth causing toothache, infection and tooth loss. Billing and coding for dental conditions can be challenging. Dentists or periodontists providing treatment need to ensure that the medical billing and coding for dental caries is done appropriately on the medical claims. Opting for a dental billing services offered by a reliable and professional provider would be a practical solution to manage the coding and claim submission processes.

The 2021 monthly observance aims to educate and inspire children to practice the habit of cleaning their teeth and make it a part of their daily routine. As per reports from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NICDR), about 42 percent of children aged 2-11 years have had dental caries in their primary teeth. It can happen when foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches) are left on the teeth. Bacteria that normally live in the mouth change these foods and make them into acids. A combination of bacteria, food, acid, and saliva form a substance called “plaque” that sticks to the teeth. Over time, the acids made by the bacteria eat away at the tooth enamel, causing cavities.

Generally, the early stage of dental caries may not show any specific signs or symptoms. However, as the tooth decay worsens, certain signs and symptoms may become visible, which again may vary depending on their extent and specific location. Common symptoms include – toothache or tooth sensitivity, white spots, visible holes or pits in the teeth and early or deeper cavity. The symptoms of tooth decay and cavities vary from child to child. In some cases, cavities do not always cause symptoms and children do not know they have one until their dentist finds it. However, several factors like – high levels of the bacteria that cause cavities, diet high in sugars and starches, less saliva than normal, frequent snacking or sipping, eating disorders and poor oral hygiene can put children at high risk of the condition.

The campaign aims to spread awareness about the importance of teaching children about good oral hygiene and how it is vital to keep them healthy. It stresses the importance of making flossing a regular part of daily activities with the children. By developing good habits in one area, it will be easier for children to develop good habits in other areas of their lives as well. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) regularly recommends that children receive their first dental exam no later than one year of age to head off potential early dental problems.

Diagnosis of dental problems begins by taking a dental history of the condition, detailed examination of the mouth and teeth with specialized instruments to check for cavity areas. Dental X-rays – which show the extent of cavities and decay – will also be performed as part of the diagnosis. Treatment options for the condition will depend on the specific symptoms, age, and general health of the child. It will also depend on the type and severity of the cavities. In most cases, treatment involves restorations. Restorations involve removing the decayed part of the tooth and replacing it with a filling (materials placed in teeth to repair damage caused by tooth decay). The diagnosis, screening tests and other treatment procedures performed by dentists or periodontists must be carefully documented using the correct medical billing codes. Billing and coding services offered by experienced medical billing companies help in accurate claims submissions. ICD-10 codes used for tooth decay or dental caries include –

  • K02.3 Arrested dental caries
  • K02.5 Dental caries on pit and fissure surface
  • K02.51 Dental caries on pit and fissure surface, limited to enamel
  • K02.52 Dental caries on pit and fissure surface, penetrating into dentin
  • K02.53 Dental caries on pit and fissure surface, penetrating into pulp
  • K02.6 Dental caries on smooth surface
  • K02.61 Dental caries on smooth surface, limited to enamel
  • K02.62 Dental caries on smooth surface, penetrating into dentin
  • K02.63 Dental caries on smooth surface, penetrating into pulp
  • K02.7 Dental root caries
  • K02.9 Dental caries, unspecified

National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM) campaign was first observed as a single day event in the US by the American Dental Association (ADA) on February 8, 1949. The main idea behind this event was to encourage children to develop good dental hygiene habits at an early age. However, within a span of few years, the scope of the campaign widened with more number of people and organizations across the country supporting the event – changing this single-day observance to a week-long event in 1955. Later, it was in the year 1981 the program was again extended to a month-long celebration known today by the name – “National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM)” and February was officially designated as the month to celebrate the same each year.

The theme for 2021 National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM) campaign is – “Water, Nature’s Drink!”. Oral health professionals can join the NCDHM campaign by downloading posters and activity sheets for kids (like a coloring sheet, a maze and crossword puzzle) from the official website. Free publications from the National Institutes of Health including material on baby teeth, tooth decay, and finding low cost dental care can also be downloaded from the website. The NCDHM website also provides program coordinators, dental societies, teachers, and parents with resources to promote the benefits of good oral health to children. The guide includes easy-to-do activities and program planning timetable tips. To publicize the importance of good dental hygiene habits among children, a wide range of events and activities are planned as part of the 2021 campaign. Press releases that provide general information about a specific topic (sealants, mouth guards, early childhood caries, etc.) are published in local newspapers, radio and television stations. In addition, fun activities are also organized as part of the campaign.

Join the 2021 NCDHM campaign and educate children about the need for practicing good dental hygiene habits right from an early age.