National Children’s Dental Health Month: Building Good Habits for a Lifetime of Healthy Teeth

Young girl at dentist officeDeveloping good dental health habits early in life is the key to enjoying a lifetime of healthy teeth. With that in mind, The American Dental Association (ADA) designated February as National Children’s Dental Health Month as a way to increase awareness around the importance of promoting good oral hygiene in children.

Initially held on February 3, 1941 as a single-day event in Cleveland, Ohio, the ADA expanded the event nationally in 1949, and into a week-long event in 1955. In 1981, National Children’s Dental Health Month expanded further to become the February-long observance that it is today. Now, the annual National Children’s Dental Health Month message reaches thousands of people across the county.

According to Tanya Fischer, Director of the Door County Medical Center Dental Clinic, "Here in Door County, we see various amounts of tooth decay in our pediatric patients. Often kids without regular dental care end up coming to us with emergency dental pain. This is concerning because dental pain can impact a child's ability to concentrate and learn at school. Ideally, kids should have a dental cleaning every 6 months once they have a few teeth."

The importance of maintaining a child’s dental health

Child brushing teeth at dentistDid you know that tooth decay is the number one chronic infectious disease among American children and that, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), “Dental cavities are four times more common than childhood asthma and three times more likely than childhood obesity?” Indeed, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) points out that those numbers translate into “more than 45% of children in the United States between the ages of 2 and 19 experienc[ing] tooth decay in their primary or permanent teeth.” Surprisingly, additional statistics point to the fact that:

  • The rate of tooth decay in baby teeth of children aged 2 to 5 years increased nearly 17% from 1988 to 2004.

  • Children with oral health problems are three times more likely to miss school due to dental pain than children with no oral health problems.

  • Delaying dental care to age 2 or 3 can have a negative impact on a child’s oral health. Nevertheless, 40% of parents and caregivers surveyed are delaying their child’s first visit until after age 2.6.

What exactly is tooth decay? 

Tooth decay, also referred to as a carie or cavity, occurs when the bacteria that live in our mouth feed on the sugar in the food we eat, which in turn produces—as the bacterial waste product—acid that attacks our teeth. If someone consumes a lot of sugary foods and drinks, and/or does not clean their teeth regularly, the acid produced by the bacteria will eventually create a small hole in the hard, outer layer—the enamel—of the tooth. If left untreated, that small hole will eventually become bigger, causing damage to the dentine, or layer of the tooth underneath the enamel.

Tips for improving pediatric dental health and preventing tooth decay

Young child brushing teethMake your child’s daily oral health game part of a routine. Making dental care a part of every child’s day is very important for establishing good oral health habits later in life. This means taking an active role in your child’s daily oral health routine from the time their teeth first appear. Here are a few oral health tips from the AAPD to follow throughout your child’s development:

  • From the first tooth until age 3, use a small amount of toothpaste—about the size of a grain of rice—for brushing your child’s teeth.

  • From 3 to 6 years of age, move up to a pea-sized amount of toothpaste.

  • Assist the child while they brush their teeth. Try brushing a young child’s teeth first and then letting them finish, and always monitor them to make sure they don’t swallow the toothpaste.

  • Always brush twice a day. After breakfast and before bedtime are the best times to brush. A good rule of thumb is that the toothbrush should be the last thing to touch your child’s teeth before they go to sleep.

  • Begin flossing your child’s teeth as soon as two teeth touch. This usually occurs between the ages of 2 and 3. Aim to floss your child’s teeth every evening, and assist them with flossing until the age of 10.

Always be aware of sugar intake. Being aware of how much sugar you or your kids consume is always a good idea, especially because foods and drinks that seem harmless often contain more cavity-causing sugar than you are aware. The current edition of The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, recommends limiting sugar intake in the following ways:

  • In children 12 months of age or younger, avoid all added sugars. Additionally, avoid 100% fruit or vegetable juices (even if they are completely natural).

  • From 12 to 24 months, most fruit should be consumed as whole fruit, not juice. If 100% fruit juice is allowed, limit it to no more than 4 ounces a day.

  • At any age, and especially before 2, juices that contain added sugar should always be avoided as should sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, sports drinks and flavored water.

Drink fluoridated water. Community fluoridated water—water that has had fluoride added to it—has been shown to reduce tooth decay by 25% by making it more difficult for the bacteria living in your mouth to produce the acid that eats through tooth enamel. Water fluoridation is supported by the ADHA, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an integral part of oral health. In order to make sure your child’s teeth are getting enough fluoride on a daily basis:

  • Make sure your child drinks plenty of water every day. This is also a great alternative to drinking juice or sweetened beverages.

  • Check with your local water utility agency, or the CDC, to make sure your water is fluoridated. For the best results, your community drinking water should contain 0.7 mg/L or fluoride.

  • If your water is not fluoridated, consider asking your child’s pediatrician for prescription fluoride drops or chewable tablets.

“Sealants Make Sense”

This year, National Children’s Dental Health Month is focusing on dental sealants, which when applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, can prevent up to 80% of cavities. A dental sealant is a coating made from an adhesive material such as resin or glass ionomer, which is applied once to teeth, sealing off the grooves in teeth that tend to collect food, and protecting them from the acid produced by your mouth’s bacteria.

An alternative to dental sealants is a fluoride varnish. A fluoride varnish is a sticky paste that contains high levels of fluoride. It is recommended beginning at six months of age, and should be applied by your dentist or pediatrician every 6 months. A fluoride varnish is considered a preventative measure and is generally covered by most public and private insurance plans.

It’s crucially important to start your child’s dental health routine as early as possible and equally important to begin taking them to the dentist by age of 1. To schedule an appointment for your child with Door County Medical Center’s Dental Clinic, please click here or call: 920-746-3788.

Published 2/8/2022 2:19:18 PM
Tags: children, dental clinic, dentist, kids, news

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