Despite the fact that it’s almost entirely preventable, tooth decay is the most common children’s chronic disease. In fact, dental decay is five times more common than asthma. As a result, American students miss 51 million hours of school every year due to oral health problems — 51 MILLION hours!
February is National Children's Dental Health Month and the perfect time to evaluate what you’re doing to help your kids keep their teeth and mouths healthy and strong.
We know kids need to brush and floss their teeth but helping them actually do it is often a challenge. Below are recommendations from our pediatric dentists on how to keep your kids’ teeth healthy and avoid painful dental problems. Don't let them be part of the 51 million hours of missed school days this year.
- Ask a Pediatric Dentist for guidance. Children should see the dentist by age 1 or within 6 months of their first tooth coming in. During that initial visit and follow-up appointments, ask questions about how to position the child while brushing, and what toothbrushes and toothpastes to use for the different ages and stages of life.
- Buy the right toothbrush. Kids should use a soft toothbrush, and the size and shape of the brush should allow them to reach all areas of their mouth. Replace toothbrushes every three to four months, sooner if the bristles are worn out or if your children have been sick.
- Choose a fluoride toothpaste. Use a pea-sized dab of fluoride toothpaste for kids ages 3-6 and use slightly more when they’re older. Teach them to spit out the toothpaste when they’re done so they don’t swallow it.
- Dentist visits should be every six months. Regular check-ups are an important time to evaluate growth, speech and dental development, as well as diagnose and treat dental decay.
- Establish a routine and stick with it. Although it can be tempting to skip brushing a child’s teeth when family demands are hectic, the more consistently they brush, the easier it becomes for them to do it on their own. Supervise your child’s brushing and flossing until they can tie their own shoes.
- Floss regularly. Focus on the areas where there is no space between teeth — this is where food can become trapped and difficult to remove with only a brush.
- Games make it fun. Play counting games with toddlers. Utilize music for older children and adolescents. Two minutes of brushing can seem like an eternity to a child. To pass the time and make it fun, play one of their favorite songs on your phone, sing a song, or make one up!
Dental disease is preventable, so let’s commit to healthy smiles for all children — in February and all year long. Check out these activity sheets to kick-off National Children’s Dental Health Month and let the smiles begin! For more information, visit American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. You can find a pediatric dentist by searching the American Dental Association site.
Written by Hans C. Reinemer DMD, MS
Division Chief, Pediatric Dentistry at Primary Children’s Hospital