February is National Children’s Dental Health Month! This month-long national health observance brings together thousands of dedicated dental professionals, healthcare providers, and educators to promote the benefits of good oral health to children, teachers and of course, parents.
Tooth decay (cavities) is one of the most common chronic conditions of childhood in the United States. Untreated tooth decay can cause pain and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning.
- About 1 of 5 (20%) children aged 5 to 11 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.
- 1 of 7 (13%) adolescents aged 12 to 19 years have at least one untreated decayed tooth.
- The percentage of children and adolescents aged 5 to 19 years with untreated tooth decay is twice as high for those from low-income families (25%) compared with children from higher-income households (11%).
The good news is that tooth decay is preventable. Starting your child off with good dental care and developing good habits at a young age along with regular dental visits will help children to have lifelong healthy teeth and gums. Follow these tips:
Don’t wait to visit the dentist.
Most kids (and adults) need a dental checkup and cleaning every six months, and they should start early: The AAPD, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Dental Association (ADA) all recommend taking your child to the dentist by his first birthday.
Avoid sharing spoons.
Even before teeth emerge, cavity-causing bacteria called Streptococcus mutans can colonize the furrows of a baby’s tongue—and saliva-sharing behaviors, like cleaning a pacifier with your mouth or using the same utensils, can spread the bacteria from your mouth to your child’s.
Use the right toothpaste.
There’s no need to buy non-fluoridated “training toothpaste” for your little one: ADA guidelines now recommend that parents use fluoride toothpaste as soon as a baby gets his first tooth. Fluoride toothpaste can help remineralize areas of teeth that have been made weaker and susceptible to decay by bacterial acids.
Give plaque the brush-off.
Once your child gets his first tooth, brush gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush twice daily for 2 minutes or as needed, with the goal of removing plaque (a sticky film containing millions of bacteria) from each tooth.
Bacteria feed on sugar and produce acid waste, which erodes the tooth to create a cavity—so one of the best ways to keep your child’s teeth healthy is to limit his intake of sugary foods and drinks.