While 97% of parents of children ages five and under, with dental insurance, would rate their child’s oral health as excellent or good, many may actually be overly optimistic. A MetLife Study released today reveals many parents are not following recommended guidelines for brushing, flossing, and other habits for optimal pediatric oral health. Nearly a quarter of surveyed parents, 23%, have been told by a dentist or hygienist that their child was at risk for tooth decay.

About half (47%) of the parents surveyed have not spoken to their pediatrician about their child’s teeth and may not be making the connection between their child’s oral health and their overall health. “According to the office of the Surgeon General, tooth decay is the single most common childhood disease—five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever. Parents should be speaking to their pediatricians to learn more about how their child’s oral health can affect their overall health,” said Dr. David Guarrera, DDS, vice president, MetLife Dental Products. “With the help of their dentist, parents can take a few simple steps to introduce healthy oral hygiene habits at an early age and to make sure their children’s teeth are protected.”

Practicing Healthy Oral Hygiene
According to the study, 42% of respondents report that their child’s teeth or gums are brushed once a day or less, and nearly half, 45%, say their child’s teeth are never flossed.

“Children should be introduced to the concept of teeth cleaning and brushing at an early age. Once a tooth appears, parents should brush children’s teeth twice a day with a child’s toothbrush and water,” notes Dr. Guarrera. “According to the American Dental Association, parents should start using floss on their children’s teeth as soon as any two teeth touch, to remove plaque where a toothbrush cannot reach.”

Over half of parents, 60%, say their kids are eating sugary foods at least once a day. Eating sugary foods can cause damaging acids to form in the mouth. These acids can affect teeth for at least 20 minutes before they are neutralized and chewy sweets stick to the surface of the teeth, spending more time in the mouth and potentially causing more damage. Because of this, parents should consider how often their children are eating sugary snacks and the type of snacks their children are consuming. Also, if parents cannot brush their child’s teeth after eating a sugary snack, it is very important to rinse at the very least.

Working with Your Dentist
Nearly 25% of respondents have not taken their child to the dentist in the past year for a dental exam. When asked about how often their child should visit the dentist, about one-third (35%) responded that a child 5 years-old or younger should visit a dentist less frequently than twice a year or were unsure.

“It is recommended that a child is taken to see a dentist within six months from when the first tooth appears, but no later than his or her first birthday,” notes Dr. Guarrera. “But two-thirds of parents in the study said that their child was two- to three-years-old when he or she had the first dental check-up. This is troubling because, while 72% of respondents added their child to their dental insurance policy between their birth and their first birthday, only 16% of parents actually took their child for their first dental check-up.”

Only 46% of respondents say their child has received fluoride treatment from a dentist or dental hygienist within the past year. Sixty-one percent of respondents report fluoride is in their tap water and 39% indicate there is either no fluoride in their tap water or they are not sure. Fluoride is extremely important for the prevention of tooth decay. According to the Office of the Surgeon General, people who live in communities with naturally fluoridated drinking water have far less tooth decay than people in comparable communities without fluoride in their water supply. Parents should speak to their child’s dentist about fluoride treatments, particularly if the family lives in a community that does not contain fluoride in the water supply.

MetLife, celebrating 50 years of healthier smiles in 2012, continues to enhance its online Oral Health Library. For tips about maintaining and improving the oral health habits of children, download a copy ofParental Oral Health Literacy: Equipping Parents with Important Information about Children’s Oral Health by accessing the library at

MetLife, which today is a leading provider of dental plan administration for nearly 20 million people, provided its first dental benefits for families in 1962.

MetLife commissioned IBOPE Zogby International to conduct the MetLife Dental Insurance Literacy Study. The survey sample consisted of 500 telephone interviews of parents of children ages five and under with dental insurance.

About MetLife
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife) is a subsidiary of MetLife, Inc. (NYSE: MET), a leading global provider of insurance, annuities and employee benefit programs, serving 90 million customers in over 50 countries. Through its subsidiaries and affiliates, MetLife holds leading market positions in the United States, Japan, Latin America, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East. For more information,


Judi Mahaney
Karen Eldred