February 2021 marks the 40th consecutive celebration of National Children’s Dental Health Month. What began as a small, one-day occurrence in Cleveland, Ohio, grew into the nationally observed Children’s Dental Health Day on Feb. 8, 1949. This annual effort by the American Dental Association (ADA) was extended to a week in 1955 and then, in 1981, became the month-long event we know today. National Children’s Dental Health Month is a great time to remind yourself and your patients why pediatric dental care is so important and revisit the steps that can help ensure a lifetime of good oral health.
Dental caries or tooth decay is a problem at any age, but it creates especially widespread and long-lasting problems for children and their caregivers. Short-term effects of caries include pain, discomfort, and infection, as well as disruptions in appetite, sleep schedule and the ability to learn and socialize.
Six tips for children’s oral health
Despite its prevalence, childhood caries is entirely preventable and, thanks to advances in dental care and educational efforts like National Children’s Dental Health Month, rates have drastically declined over the past few decades. Today, the proven combination of regular preventive visits, at-home hygiene, and a balanced, low-sugar diet comprises a standard of care that can keep children healthy and cavity-free through adolescence and into adulthood. Here are six practices from Children’s Dental Health parents should follow to prevent childhood caries:
- Schedule routine dental appointments: A child’s first dental appointment should be made by the time they have their first birthday, or their first tooth develops. Future visits can be scheduled approximately every six months, depending on the child’s needs and dentist recommendations.
- Clean babies’ gums regularly: After each meal, gently wipe gums with a damp washcloth to remove any debris or bacteria. This discourages cavity development and other health issues as primary teeth emerge.
- Brush teeth as soon as they appear: Once a child develops their first tooth, use an infant toothbrush, water, and a small, rice grain–sized amount of fluoride toothpaste to gently clean the tooth.
- Establish a twice-daily brushing routine: For kids two to six years old, parents and caregivers should use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste to brush their child’s teeth twice a day. As children approach six to eight years, they can be allowed to brush their teeth with supervision. By age eight or nine, they likely can brush independently. Children’s toothbrushes should be replaced once every three to four months.
- Incorporate daily flossing: Add flossing to a child’s hygiene regimen as soon as two of their teeth touch. Like adults, children should floss once a day.
- Snack healthy and stay hydrated: In addition to fruits and vegetables, low-sugar, calcium-rich snacks like cheese and certain yogurts can help keep childhood caries at bay. Water in place of soda or juice is highly recommended and can be especially beneficial if your community has a fluoridated public water supply.
For new parents, it’s critical to put children on the path to good oral health as early as possible. By reinforcing positive oral hygiene habits throughout childhood and into adolescence, children will be set up for a high standard of dental care into adulthood.
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Information in this article originally appeared in the February 2021 edition of OnTarget. Read the latest issue and view current promotions at pattersondental.com/dental/ontarget.