It cannot be overstated how vital dental health is for kids’ wellbeing. That’s why February was declared National Children’s Dental Health Month! Raising kids can be full of chaos, pulling our attention in a million directions at once. Their teeth frequently get put on the back burner in favor of more pressing issues. Children’s Dental Health Month started all the way back in 1949 when the ADA set aside a single day to raise awareness of the importance of good oral health for kids. It was later extended to a week, and took over the month of February in 1981. We hope National Children’s Dental Health Month will help the kids in your life!
WHY DENTAL HEALTH IS SO IMPORTANT FOR CHILDREN
Tooth decay the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States. In fact, an estimated 1 in every 5 kids between the ages of 5 to 11 years old has at least one untreated cavity. Many parents and caregivers mistakenly believe that, since baby teeth will eventually fall out anyway, it’s not worth getting cavities in baby teeth treated. However, dental decay can lead to a ton of other problems for kids.
HEALTHY TEETH FOR SCHOOL SUCCESS
Poor oral health has been shown to make it harder for kids to succeed in school. And it’s no wonder! Children with untreated cavities may find it hard to eat a normal, nutritious diet due to pain when chewing. They may be distracted in class because of discomfort or pain from ailing teeth. Tooth pain can also keep kids up at night, leading to fatigue that can affect their grades. Children with tooth decay are also about three times more likely to miss school because of tooth pain, compared to classmates with good oral health.
LIFELONG LESSONS IN ORAL HEALTH
Oral health status in childhood also sets kids up for their long-term relationship with their teeth and the dentist. Fear of the dentist is commonly reported as one of the most top phobias in the country. For most people with dental anxiety, these fears start in childhood.
Children who see the dentist regularly starting at an early age have the opportunity to build positive memories of the dental office. If kids only see the dentist for emergencies or fillings, they learn to expect pain and an overwhelming experience every time. On the other hand, when they’re given the opportunity to explore the dental office experience as a positive, routine, easy appointment like a regular cleaning, they learn the dentist is here to help us stay healthy!
HOW TO SUPPORT YOUR KIDS' DENTAL HEALTH
The good news is that, while cavities are a big problem in children’s health, they’re largely preventable! You can take active, yet simple steps to support better oral health for the kids in your life.
HELP THEM PRACTICE GOOD HOME CARE HABITS
Just like adults, children should brush twice daily for two minutes and floss once every day. Flossing may seem like overkill, since baby teeth frequently have spaces between them, but those little spaces can trap food and lead to cavities. Making it part of the routine right from the beginning is an excellent investment in your kids’ lifelong tooth care habits.
Children should use fluoride toothpaste right from the beginning. Although dentists used to recommend waiting on fluoride until after your child could spit the bubbles out, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry now recommends a tiny smear (about the size of a grain of rice) of fluoride toothpaste from the appearance of the very first tooth. The amount is so small it has been proven not to cause harm if swallowed, but the mineral supplement will do wonders in preventing tooth decay in those tiny teeth!
ENCOURAGE TOOTH-HEALTHY SNACKING
We’ve talked about how nutrition impacts your oral health before. Just like adults, kids’ teeth benefit from great food. However, it can take a little convincing to get kids to choose carrot sticks over gummy bears. Kids should be able to enjoy occasional treats, provided they rinse well afterward and don’t snack on sugar and starch the entire day. Current best practices indicate that offering healthy options frequently, but not pressuring or forcing kids to eat them, helps to develop a good relationship with food. In general, just aim for balance where possible and be sure sweets are an occasional treat rather than a regular stable.
It's also very important to practice good bottle habits for babies and toddlers. Never put a baby or toddler to bed with a bottle. We understand the struggle for sleep but allowing babies and toddlers to sip on milk or juice throughout the night leads to aggressive tooth decay. Rampant caries, commonly called “baby bottle rot” manifests as cavities across the front teeth. It can lead to serious oral health problems. It’s fine to nurse your baby to sleep or give them a bottle before bed, but ideally water should be the last thing to touch their teeth before sleeping. If your little one falls asleep while taking their last feed of the day, that’s fine, just don’t put the bottle to bed with them!
GET YOUR KIDS SET UP FOR SUCESS AT THEIR NEXT DENTAL CHECK-UP
Getting your kids to the dentist for regular teeth cleanings and dental health check-ups is an essential part of keeping their teeth healthy for life. There are many great books out there to help prepare kids for their first dental visit. Talking positively about the dentist and answering any questions before the visit can help to calm anxieties as well. It is vital to avoid using the idea of cavities and painful fillings as a way to coerce your kids into brushing their teeth! If and when a child needs treatment, building up the idea of cavities as a consequence of bad behavior can add unnecessary stress and fear to the experience.
Anderson Family Dental wants to support great dental health for your entire family. For kids who would do better in a colorful, kid-oriented environment, we can connect you with excellent pediatric dentists near you as well. Whether here in our offices in Winter Park or elsewhere, we want your kids to have a great experience at the dentist! Happy Children’s Dental Health Month!