Early Dental Visits Essential To Children's Health

Armen Hareyan's picture
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February is National Children's Dental Health Month. It's sponsored each year by the American Dental Association (ADA) to raise awareness among families and policymakers about the critical importance to children of good practices of oral health. And for the sixth year in a row, the ADA opened the month with its national health outreach event, the ADA Give Kids A Smile campaign.

Held this year on Feb. 1, Give Kids A Smile provided more than 51,000 dental professionals offering dental services to an estimated 500,000 underserved children at more than 2,000 sites nationwide, free of charge. Those services included educational materials and, where possible, free dental care such as: cleaning, fluoride treatments, cavity fillings and even more intensive care.

As tooth decay rises among the nation's preschoolers, the American Dental Association hopes that National Children's Dental Health Month and the annual ADA Give Kids A Smile campaign will serve as an urgent reminder.

"Oral health is such an important part of a child's overall good health, and yet it can be overlooked in young children," said ADA President Mark J. Feldman, D.M.D. "Good oral health practices should begin with an introductory dental visit before a child's first birthday. Children's teeth are meant to last a lifetime," Dr. Feldman said, "and with proper care, a balanced diet and regular dental visits, children can have a lifetime of healthy smiles."

Dental Visits

The ADA recommends regular dental check-ups, including a visit to the dentist within six months of the eruption of the first tooth, and no later than the child's first birthday. Preventive care such as cleanings and if necessary, fluoride treatments, provide children with "smile" insurance. Routine dental exams uncover problems that can be easily treated in the early stages, when damage is minimal.

Early Childhood Caries (Baby Bottle Tooth Decay)

Baby bottle tooth decay can destroy children's teeth. It occurs when a child is frequently exposed to sugary liquids such as milk, fruit juice and other sweet liquids. The ADA recommends the following steps to prevent your child from getting early childhood caries.

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-- Begin oral care early. Wipe the baby's gums with a wet washcloth or a clean gauze pad after each feeding.

-- Babies and toddlers should finish their naptime and bedtime bottles before going to bed. Never allow your baby or toddler to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, fruit juices or sweetened liquids OR a pacifier dipped in sugar or honey.

-- Encourage children to drink from a cup by their first birthday.

-- Don't let children constantly sip on sugary liquids (including milk and juice) from training (sippy) cups. Offer these liquids at mealtimes.

-- Help your child develop good eating habits early and choose nutritious snacks.

Dental Sealants

Sealants are used to protect the chewing surfaces from tooth decay, the single most common chronic childhood disease. Your dentist can help prevent or reduce the incidence of decay by applying sealants to your child's teeth. A sealant is a clear or tooth-colored plastic material that is applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth where decay occurs most often. Sealants protect normal depressions and grooves in the teeth called pits and fissures, which are particularly susceptible to tooth decay.

Mouth Protectors

Any child involved in a recreational activity, such as soccer, hockey, football, roller blading, riding a scooter and even bicycling should wear a mouth guard. There are "stock" mouth guards available in stores and a better-fitting variety, which are custom fitted by your dentist. Ask your dentist about using a mouth protector.

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