The American Dental Association (ADA) is sponsoring National Children’s Dental Health Month this February to inform parents, caregivers, teachers, and the public on the importance of dental hygiene for children. This year’s slogan is “Water: Nature’s Drink.” (Scroll down to learn how your child can get a free dental evaluation.)
Cavities are one of the most common chronic childhood diseases. Left untreated, cavities can cause pain and infections that can lead to other, worse problems. Cavities—and poor dental health—can interfere with eating, speaking, playing, and learning. There is a negative link between children who have poor oral health and school attendance.
Here are some grim facts:
- Nearly one of every 5 children ages 5–11 has at least one untreated decayed tooth
- One of every 7 adolescents (ages 12–19) has at least one untreated decayed tooth
- Children from low-income households are twice as likely to have cavities than children of higher-income homes
Fortunately, cavities are preventable. In fact, fluoride can prevent about one-third of all cavities in baby teeth. And dental sealants applied to back teeth can prevent up to 80 percent of cavities.
What Can Parents Do to Improve Their Babies’ Dental Health?
In the early years, parents can assure good dental hygiene in their children by doing the following:
- Wiping gums with a soft, clean cloth twice a day, after the first and last feedings
- Brushing teeth twice a day when teeth come in, using a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and water
- Taking baby to the dentist after his or her first birthday
- Talking to the dentist about fluoride applications on future teeth
When children get older, parents can teach them to:
- Brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, watching children under age 6 to make sure they are using just a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and are spitting out rather than swallowing the toothpaste
- Drink tap water that contains fluoride
Benefits of Fluoride
Fluoride is a compound that combines the element fluorine with other substances in nature. It is found naturally in soil, flowing water, rocks, air, and in plants. All water contains some amount of fluoride.
In the United States, water fluoridation—adding additional fluoride to drinking water—began in 1945, when scientists noticed that people who lived in areas with higher concentrations of fluoride had fewer cavities. In California, starting in 1998, water suppliers with 10,000 or more customers are required to add fluoride to drinking water.
Some water authorities in San Diego County do add fluoride, while others do not. Visit the California State Resources Control Board online to see if the water authority in your area adds fluoride to naturally occurring fluoride in water to reach what is considered the optimal range for dental health. (The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency caps the amount of fluoride allowable in drinking water to prevent health problems excessive fluoride may cause.)
Benefits of fluoride include:
- Reversing early signs of tooth decay
- Preventing tooth decay
- Protecting against cavities
- Preventing the growth of harmful bacteria in the mouth
Cavities also can be prevented by avoiding certain foods and drinks that are especially sticky and can adhere to teeth. Children should brush their teeth after eating the following foods, or avoid the foods entirely:
- Chewy candy, especially caramels, taffy, gumdrops, gummy bears, and fruit leather or “roll-ups”
- Gummy vitamins
- Sodas, which are acidic as well as loaded with sugar
- Acidic fruits, such as lemons and grapefruit
Foods and drinks that are good for children’s teeth include:
- Apples, celery, and carrots: fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber and can promote cleansing
- Eggs, which contain protein, phosphates, and vitamin D
- Milk, cheese, and yogurt, which are high in calcium, phosphates, and vitamin D
- Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, and other leafy greens, which contain calcium
- Legumes, such as beans and peas, which contain calcium
- Nuts and seeds, which can help replenish minerals to tooth enamel that acids remove
When Should Kids Visit the Dentist?
The ADA recommends children have their first dental exam by their first birthday. At this time, a modified exam may be performed, with the baby sitting in the parent’s lap.
Although a child may have few teeth at this time, children and parents may benefit from the advice a dentist can give on preventative care, such as proper brushing and flossing techniques.
Children may visit either a family dentist or a pediatric dentist, who is trained to handle all issues associated with children’s teeth and can refer parents to a specialist for problems with jaw or tooth alignment.
A Free Dental Visit and More Information
Free dental screenings for children up to age 18, including the application of sealants and a fluoride varnish, are available until March 19, 2021, through the Give Kids a Smile Program. For a list of participating dentists click here .
For additional information on National Children’s Dental Health Month, including free, downloadable coloring pages, activity sheets, and a brushing calendar, visit the ADA website. For information on oral health in infants, children, and pregnant women, visit the WIC Works Resource System website of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The UCLA Center for Children’s Oral Health website offers several short videos on taking care of children’s teeth, including one on the importance of fluoride that is presented by children. All videos are in English and some are in Spanish, Mandarin, and German as well.
Herrick Library Resources
The following books can be reserved and checked out from Herrick Library via curbside pickup:
- I Have a Cavity, by Lisa Herrington (children’s book)
- Ignore Your Teeth and They’ll Go Away, by Sheldon Sydney
- Setting Them Straight: The Fact-Based Guide to a Spectacular Smile Through Orthodontics, by Dante Gonzales
- Whole Body Dentistry: A Complete Guide to Understanding the Impact of Dentistry on Total Health, by Mark Breiner
- Why We Go to the Dentist, by Rosalyn Clark (children’s book)
Sources: American Cancer Society, Water Fluoridation and Cancer Risk, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/water-fluoridation-and-cancer-risk.html; ADA, February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, https://www.ada.org/en/public-programs/national-childrens-dental-health-month; ADA National Children’s Dental Health Month on Tap in February, https://www.ada.org/en/publications/ada-news/2020-archive/november/national-childrens-dental-health-month-on-tap-in-february; California Water Boards, Fluoridation by Public Water Systems: Is My Water Supply Fluoridated?, https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/drinking_water/certlic/drinkingwater/Fluoridation.html; CDC, Children’s Oral Health, https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/basics/childrens-oral-health/index.html; Healthline.com, What Is Fluoride, and Is It Safe?, https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-fluoride; San Diego County Dental Society, Give Kids A Smile (GKAS), https://sdcds.org/event/give-kids-a-smile-gkas/#:~:text=Give%20Kids%20A%20Smile%20is,will%20look%20a%20little%20different.&text=This%20event%20will%20take%20place,of%20February%2022%20%E2%80%93%20March%2019; San Diego County Water Authority, Fluoridation, https://www.sdcwa.org/fluoridation; UCCOH, Parent Resources, http://www.uccoh.org/resources.html; UnityPoint Health, LiveWell, Best and Words Foods for Healthy Children’s Teeth, https://www.unitypoint.org/livewell/article.aspx?id=1bbcf46c-2d97-4195-8e7c-c2c6a42662c8
Graphics: Can Stock Photo