As an adult, you’re probably well aware that your best chance at healthy teeth and gums involves brushing and flossing regularly, avoiding sugar and acidic foods, and making periodic visits to the dentist, but can you honestly say you gave your teeth and gums the same degree of attention when you were a child?
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, making it a great time to instill those healthy habits that you now know by heart. A lot of kids visit the dentist and then practice strong dental hygiene for several weeks, but all too often, the “importance” of maintaining healthy teeth and gums starts to fade, and the brushing and flossing instances become fewer and farther between. Here’s what your kids need to know this month and every month to maintain healthy teeth and gums and prevent tooth deterioration and related problems down the line.
The Longer Sugar Sits on Your Teeth, the Greater the Damage
When you eat or drink a lot of sugar, that sugar produces acids that dissolve and damage your teeth. Generally, the more sugar you eat, the higher your chances of tooth decay. While it’s not realistic to avoid all sugar altogether for the rest of your life, it’s wise to brush as soon as possible after consuming sugary foods and drinks in an effort to minimize the time sugar sits in your mouth – and therefore, the damage it does to your teeth. Brushing twice a day is great, but brushing after every meal is even better.
Brush (at Least) Twice a Day for Two Minutes at a Time
Teach your kids to brush in the morning, at night and ideally, in between. Brushing twice daily is critical for preventing tooth decay and eliminating embarrassing problems like bad breath, but it’s also important that you brush for long enough to make an impact. A full two minutes is the recommendation, so get your kids a timer or have them use a cell phone or clock to ensure they’re brushing vigorously for the entire two-minute period.
Follow these tips and make sure your kids visit the dentist regularly for their best chance at beautiful, long lasting and healthy teeth and gums.
Although oral health is important at every stage of life, it is particularly important to establish proper oral habits in children that will serve as an ongoing investment in their health. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, cavities and untreated dental decay are the most common diseases affecting children, outpacing even asthma and hay fever. It is recommended that children start seeing a dentist as early as one year of age.
In addition to checking a child’s tooth development, early visits allow the dentist to check for signs of oral cancer or gum disease. There is also a correlation between caries (another name for cavities) in baby teeth and subsequent development of caries in the permanent teeth.
Your child’s dentist will make sure that your child’s primary teeth are coming in properly. These teeth, which precede the permanent teeth, start erupting as early as six months of age. While they do eventually fall out, primary teeth are important for developing chewing skills and learning to speak properly. The primary teeth also serve as markers for the proper alignment of the permanent teeth so it’s critical that they remain healthy throughout a child’s development.
Your child will start developing his or her permanent teeth starting from about the age of 6. The dentist will want to ensure proper spacing and gum health as these teeth come in. He will likely discuss your child’s diet with you, as this is an important component of tooth enamel development. Since the permanent teeth will be with your child for a lifetime, it is particularly important that good oral health habits are established at an early age.
What You Can Do
One of the most important things you can do for your child’s oral health is to model good oral health behaviors. Establish and follow good habits yourself, such as brushing and flossing daily and visiting the dentist regularly, and emphasize the importance to your child. Children are great imitators. If you model with enthusiasm the good habits you want your child to adopt, your child is much more likely to copy what you are doing.
It is crucial for your children’s health that they develop good oral hygiene habits from a young age. To that end, the American Pediatric Association recommends that children have their first dental exams starting between 1 and 2 years of age. This is particularly important since the primary teeth start erupting as early as six months. These baby teeth will then go on to set the stage for the proper alignment and development of your child’s permanent teeth.
How to Motivate Your Young Child
Initially you will be taking care of your child’s teeth, but starting around age 2, your child can start helping in his or her own oral care. At about the age of 6, when the requisite motor skills have developed, your child will be able to take over brushing and flossing his or her own teeth. To keep your child motivated, try some of these tips:
- Get your child an electric or manual toothbrush with a favorite character on it
- Model good brushing and flossing behavior for your child and let him or her mimic you
- Use a footstool so your child can watch himself in the mirror
- Choose a flavored toothpaste with a design on the tube that appeals to your child
- Try singing to your child or play a song while your child is brushing so they do it for the full recommended two minutes
- Let your child practice brushing the teeth of stuffed toys for practice
- Keep the sessions short, particularly for really young children
- Assist with brushing up to age 6 or 7 to ensure removal of plaque and other harmful bacteria
Make Trips to the Dentist Fun
By starting dental visits at a young age, your child will be more likely to think of it as a fun activity rather than something to be feared. Try some of these tips to allay your child’s fears:
- Stay calm, yourself. You don’t want your child to sense you are nervous.
- Tie the trip into some other fun thing for your child to do afterward.
- Take one of your child’s favorite books along to read in the waiting room.
- Take along a coloring book and crayons or one of your child’s favorite toys.
- Find a pediatric dentist that specializes in working with young children and can make them feel comfortable during the visit.
By making oral routines fun for your child and easing anxieties about visits to the dentist, you can make oral health something that your child looks forward to with positive anticipation.
February is the American Dental Association’s National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM), and this year’s theme is Defeat Monster Mouth. In order for the program to be successful and make a positive impact on kids’ knowledge about dental health, outreach and education are crucial. If you work with children (for example, teachers, dentists, nurses, or other professionals) and are interested in contributing to this project, consider downloading the free NCDHM planning program guide. This document includes a wealth of important knowledge, including tips on how to schedule a proclamation signing, various ideas for kids’ activities and a planning timetable.
Having your town’s mayor sign a proclamation can send a message to the community at large that children’s dental health is an important priority for your town. Publicizing the event can be a great way to increase awareness, both among children and their parents, about the importance of brushing, flossing and eating healthy. A sample proclamation can be found in the planning program guide, along with helpful tips for how to schedule the signing.
Many children learn best through games and activities. That is why the planning program includes many great activity ideas, including:
- Coloring contests: Organizing contests and games that get the word out about NCDHM can be an effective way to educate children.
- Health fairs: You can get in contact with different health fairs in your area and design a booth that promotes Defeat Monster Mouth and distributes information about healthy dental habits. Also find out about local Give Kids a Smile events that provide free dental care to children.
- News coverage: The media, both print and television, are another great avenue through which to reach out to the community about the program.
Also included in the guide is a planning timetable. This schedule can be quite useful, particularly if this is your first time helping to organize NCDHM events. From October to March, there is work to be done to ensure that National Children’s Dental Health Month goes smoothly. Take a look at the timetable for ideas on how you can get started.
Bringing awareness to the public at large about how children can take care of their teeth can have a large and positive impact. On the whole, the Defeat Monster Mouth planning program guide is an excellent resource for dentists, teachers and parents who wish to get involved in the program. It includes helpful information regarding how to schedule proclamations signings, a planning timetable, and potential activities for kids and adults alike.