Give Kids a Smile During National Children's Dental Health Month

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Each February, the American Dental Association (ADA) sponsors National Children’s Dental Health Month to raise awareness about the importance of oral health. Developing good habits at an early age help children prevent dental issues into adulthood.

Parents are the key to a child’s good dental health. A new study from Massachusetts General Hospital for Children (MGHfC), published in the journal Pediatrics, suggests that children model their parents oral care habits. Children of parents who regularly visit dental care experts are more likely to do the same, and not fear the dentist as much as other children.

Tooth decay is one of the most common childhood conditions, and particularly prevalent among low-income families.

Children as young as one can learn to brush their own teeth with help. Start with a non-fluoridated “training” toothpaste and a soft bristled toothbrush at least twice a day. Because children this young do not understand “swish and spit”, they often swallow toothpaste. As the child gets older, switch to a toothpaste that contains fluoride, but continue to monitor its use. Children should use just a pea-sized amount for brushing.

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Children should also learn about daily flossing at an early age. Begin as soon as the teeth begin to touch each other, usually around age 4.

The American Dental Association recommends that children start regular dental checkups at age one, or when the first tooth erupts. This can surprise some parents, who do not understand that baby teeth need care just as much as adult, because tooth decay can affect the growing teeth under the gums. Decaying and diseased teeth can also be a source of discomfort for children, which can affect their speech, self-esteem, and nutritional intake.

Diet plays a big role in good oral health for children. Starting as infants, sugary substances left on the teeth from formula or juice can lead to a condition commonly known as “baby bottle tooth decay.” The liquid from the bottle or sippy cup pools in the mouth, creating a breeding environment for bacteria and decay. Even before the first teeth emerge, parents are encouraged to gently wipe a baby’s gums with a clean, wet cloth after each feeding.

Children of all ages should be encouraged to consume a healthy diet of plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and limit consumption of sugary treats such as sodas, candy, and cookies particularly those that stick to the teeth, such as fruit leathers and caramel. Some cultures promote the activity of sucking on acidic foods, such as lemons and limes. When children frequently suck on these, the protective enamel of their teeth can erode, making them more vulnerable to decay.

As children move into pre-teen and teen years, particularly focus on limiting dark colas to prevent permanent staining of new adult teeth. This is also the age where many will need braces to straighten crooked adult teeth, and it is vital to reinforce proper cleaning and care for those devices. Brushing and flossing are more difficult and require additional time to remove all food particles that can accumulate.

One of the centerpieces of National Children’s Dental Health Month is “Give Kids a Smile” day, observed the first Friday in February each year. As of Monday, February 01, 2010, almost 13,000 dentists are participating in 1993 events across the nation to provide education, preventative and restorative care to low-income children who do not have access to dental care. Dental health professionals will volunteer their time at designated dental offices, dental clinics and community colleges across the state for free. To find a participating dentist, visit www.gkas.org or http://givekidsasmile.ada.org.

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