February is National Children’s Dental Health Month

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mother and daughter brushing teeth

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM), a month long national observance where dental professionals aim to increase awareness and promote good oral hygiene in children.

Children rely on parents, teachers, relatives and other caregivers to educate and train them in the habits that will bring good health throughout their lives. Sometimes we can get distracted and overlook the importance of something like flossing or brushing, or think it’s ok to just miss it this one time.

The sad truth is, many children aren’t getting the care and level of attention they need. One look at the numbers and you’ll know what I mean:
– 20% of children between ages 5-11 have at least one untreated decayed tooth.
– 42% of children ages 2-11 have had tooth decay in their primary teeth.
– Childhood tooth decay is the #1 chronic childhood illness.

Treating Cavities is Important; Preventing Them is Ideal

#NCDHM poster

This year’s National Children’s Dental Health campaign slogan is “Choose Tap Water for a Sparkling Smile”. What’s so important about tap water?

First, water in general should be the primary thirst quencher for children. One of the worst things you can do for your child’s teeth is to send them to sleep with a bedside glass of milk or juice. The sugar in those drinks will have all night to work on their teeth. Drink water.

Second, tap water (specifically) contains fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral that helps prevent cavities. It’s present in all natural water sources, but in the United States, most communities have fortified their water with extra fluoride to protect public health. It’s also added to toothpaste and mouth rinses. So how does fluoride protect teeth?

The bacteria in our mouth feeds on the sugars that end up there from food and drink. This combination produces an acid that wears down the enamel of our teeth. This process gradually decays teeth and leads to cavities. Fluoride keeps our enamel strong and resistant to the effects of that harmful acid.

Fluoridated water protects your children’s teeth, while sugary drinks contribute to tooth decay. Switching to tap water, over sugary drinks, is a significant investment in our dental health that can prevent cavities before they start.

Don’t Forget the 2 x 2 Rule

child loading toothpaste

Many parents overlook the fact that their child’s teeth are candidates for tooth decay as soon as they appear. We see tooth decay in infants as young as six months old!

Most babies have their first teeth come in at about six months of age, and as soon as they show up they should be cleaned twice daily to prevent decay. You should already be cleaning an infant’s gums every day with a moist washcloth or gauze, and that’s still ok until a few teeth have come in.

Once there are teeth in there, you can switch to a soft, child-sized brush. Begin cleaning your child’s teeth using a very small amount of fluoride toothpaste. Don’t brush their teeth and put them to sleep with juice or milk; give them water.

Most children will have a full set of primary teeth by the time they are three years old. Once they have teeth that touch, it’s time to begin daily flossing, too.

Once they can brush their teeth on their own, they should learn the 2 x 2 rule: brush your teeth 2 times per-day, for 2 minutes each time, with fluoride toothpaste. Children ages 3-6 should be using a pea-sized dab of toothpaste and be taught not to swallow it. Look here for more information.

If you have questions about the dental health of your child or would like to schedule a cleaning, you can contact Bedford’s best dentistry team!

~Dr. Marea White