February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, a time to recognize and combat the dental health crisis plaguing millions of America’s children.
Alarmingly children, as young as the age of two, are experiencing cavities in their primary teeth. Even more distressing is the staggering number of youth and adolescents who will experience decay in their permanent teeth before even finishing middle school!
The CDC recognizes tooth decay as the #1 chronic childhood disease in America and the adverse effects reach far beyond a simple toothache. Poor oral health in children has been linked to adverse health risks, lack of confidence, difficulty with speech and articulation and difficulty with eating.
Tooth decay rates also range extremely high in Hispanic and African American adolescents. A study by the National Craniofacial Institute concluded that as many as 65% of Hispanic adolescents have caries in permanent teeth, one fourth of those children will go untreated.
As children grow, health risks can increase leading to more serious medical conditions in adulthood such as diabetes, heart disease, dementia and certain types of cancer.
“Dental decay can cause problems that greatly affect a child’s quality of life and ability to succeed,” says Dr. Leslie Townsend, DDS., Regional Dental Director, Jefferson Dental Clinics. “Every child deserves a healthy start. With proper prevention and care, tooth decay is completely preventable.”
Here are some expert tips for health professionals, parents and care givers to reinforce healthy oral hygiene practices for children from an early age:
Tips: Oral Hygiene Practice for Children
- By age 1, kids need to be in the habit of cleaning their teeth at least twice a day. For babies and toddlers use a wet cloth or special wipes to wipe down the surface of the gums after meals.
- After age 3 children are ready to brush with a children’s brush, introduce a toothpaste containing fluoride to strengthen tooth enamel. The ADA does not recommend using fluoride for small children under the age of 2.
- As soon as your child has two teeth that touch, it’s time to start flossing. Assist by demonstrating how to floss, and by teaching the importance of regular care. By skipping flossing you neglect up to 35% of surfaces of teeth.
- Prepare nutritious and balanced meals. Limit sugary and sticky foods, which can increase bacteria and acids that destroy tooth enamel.
- Keep in mind that even some fruit juices can contain as much sugar as a can of soda. Limit baby bottles to contain only water, formula or milk.
- Schedule regular visits to the dentist every six months for professional cleanings and oral exams.
- Check with your dentist about the use of dental sealants, a plastic protective coating applied to the back of your child’s teeth to prevent decay.
- Finally, make sure you, yourself are modeling proper health for your children. Children emanate what they see, so lead by example!
Many private health insurance plans cover the cost of up to two dental cleanings per year, so take advantage! Plans such as Medicaid and CHIP help to cover the cost of dental visits for those who qualify.
It’s never too early to reinforce the healthy oral hygiene habits our children need to avoid falling victim to our current dental crisis. For more information about oral health care and prevention education, visit www.jeffersondentalclinics.com.