February is National Children’s Dental Health Month!
This national health observance brings together thousands of dedicated members of the dental team, healthcare providers, parents, caregivers, teachers, and other community partners to promote the benefits of good oral health habits that can help children maintain a healthy smile now and for years to come.
Untreated cavities in children can cause infections and pain, which can lead to problems with eating, speaking, and learning as a result of increased school absences. According to the 2020-2021 National Survey of Children’s Health, 14.8% of California’s children ages 1 to 17 had decayed teeth or cavities in the past 12 months studied (CAHMI). Nationwide, more than half of children develop cavities by the age of 8 (NIH).
Lack of daily oral hygiene, poor nutrition, and the absence of preventive dental visits are the primary causes of tooth decay among children. Helping children develop and understand the importance of healthy dental care habits can prevent cavities and pain from an infected tooth.
Healthy Dental Care Habits Start at Home
Cavities occur when bacteria, sugar, and food left behind on teeth after eating or drinking are not brushed away. A healthy smile is a result of daily dental care habits, including preventive dental care visits every six (6) months. Below are healthy habits to help protect your child from cavities as they grow:
Infancy. Oral health begins at birth. Caring for your baby’s oral health is important to prevent tooth decay. It also helps set the stage for good dental care habits as your baby grows.
- Good dental care habits begin before the first tooth appears. Clean a baby’s gums after each feeding to wipe away any build-up of bacteria and food particles. This will help start a good routine of oral hygiene habits with your child.
- Baby teeth do matter. When your baby’s first teeth come in, brush them with an infant toothbrush. Use water and a small amount of fluoride toothpaste (about the size of a grain of rice). Use a toothpaste that carries the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance.
- Avoid placing your child to sleep with sugary fluids in their bottle. Milk, formula, or juice that sits on a baby’s teeth for extended periods of time can cause tooth decay. Instead, replace those fluids with water.
Early childhood. A parent’s or caregiver’s support is critical during this age period, as many children are developing their coordination skills. This is a crucial time in helping your child develop their dental care routine to ensure their teeth and gums are as healthy as possible.
- Support your child with their daily dental care. Help your child develop their toothbrushing and dental flossing skills. Your child’s dentist can provide you and your child with proper dental care guidance.
- Reinforce positive dental care habits. Share with your child the importance of healthy dental care habits. Continue to support your child with their dental care until you feel confident they can brush and floss on their own. Try practicing healthy habits together.
Adolescents and teens. Children at this age are more independent and may be involved with school academics and extracurricular activities, such as band or sports. It can be easy to forget about their healthy dental care habits.
- Communicate and encourage daily dental care. With the transition from childhood to young adulthood, good oral hygiene becomes important for good overall health and well-being.
- Be a positive role model. Lead by example. Children are more likely to engage in positive dental care habits if you are taking care of your own oral health.
Healthy Eating for a Healthy Smile
Children need a nutrient-rich diet to support their rapid growth. Much like the rest of the body, their teeth also need healthy foods to stay in good health.
- Offer nutritious foods. Offer your children foods from the five (5) food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products.
- Limit snacks and beverages with added sugars. The cavity-causing bacteria in your mouth love to eat sugar and produce acid that wears away the tooth enamel. Try offering snacks such as sliced apples, yogurt, or cheese. Offer water for thirst.
Preventive Dental Visits Help Keep Teeth Healthy
Helping your child maintain a healthy smile is a team effort between you, your child, and the dental team. Stick to those 6-month dental checkups!
- Dental checkups can identify and treat cavities or other dental issues before they become larger, painful, and costly.
- The dentist may recommend applying dental sealants or a fluoride varnish to protect your child’s teeth from cavities.
- The dental team can provide you and your child with proper dental care techniques.
Helping your child develop healthy dental care habits can help them continue with an attitude of good oral health into adulthood.