Each February during National Children’s Dental Health Month, dental health providers throughout the state encourage parents and caregivers to help children get an early start in learning how to take care of their teeth and gums. Assisting in this effort are the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) and the American Dental Association (ADA), who join forces to promote the importance of dental health for children. The slogan for this year’s National Children’s Dental Health Month observance is, “Get a Gold Medal Smile!”
“Remember, children learn their oral habits from you. As a parent or caregiver, be a good example, and your children will forever thank you with a healthy smile,” said Dr. Jana Winfree, chief, OSDH Dental Health Service.
The OSDH and ADA offer the following dental health tips for parents or caregivers:
- Do not feed a baby by “propping” the bottle.
- Limit the use of sippy cups. Sippy cups function in the same way bottles do – the child must suck to drink. Encourage toddlers to learn to sip by using a cup without a valve. Both bottles and sippy cups can contribute to early childhood cavities.
- Start brushing as soon as the first tooth erupts. You can use a soft cloth to clean baby’s teeth, or there are special soft toothbrushes for small children.
- Brush your child’s teeth daily until the child can be taught to do this alone. A child normally develops skills to brush during the early elementary school age. Introduce flossing and continue to supervise children as they learn.
- Make sure your child gets the fluoride needed for decay-resistant teeth. Check your city’s water system for fluoridation by visiting the “My Water’s Fluoride” website or check with your public water utility. A dentist or dental hygienist can apply topical fluoride twice a year.
- Also, most toothpastes are fluoridated and there are many over-the-counter fluoride rinses available. Just a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste is recommended.
- For young children, care should be taken so they do not swallow toothpaste; consider not using toothpaste for children under age 2, or use a very thin smear.
- Take your child regularly to visit a dentist. Ask about sealants, which provide a protective barrier that covers the chewing surfaces of back teeth – especially first molars.
- Discuss with the coach about your child using a mouth guard during contact sports.
- Discourage tobacco use and oral piercings.
- Encourage and provide proper nutrition.
- Sugary and acidic drinks should be limited. Try diluting juices with water. Water is the best drink for thirst and to sip throughout the day.
- Sugary foods should be consumed with meals. Saliva production increases during meals and helps neutralize acid, and rinse food particles from the mouth.
- Limit between meal snacks.
- If your kids chew gum, make it sugarless. Chewing sugarless gum after eating can increase saliva flow and help wash out food and decay-producing acid.
For more information about Children’s Dental Health Month and events planned during February, or for posters, fun activity sheets, and educational resources, browse the American Dental Association website.