By Adrianna Bradley
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) wants parents to help their little ones brush up on oral health.
Although it’s preventable, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in children. When left untreated, tooth decay can cause pain and infections that can lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing and learning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that children who have poor oral health tend to miss more school days and receive lower grades than children who don’t.
Good dental habits start at home
DHEC encourages parents to support good habits at home, such as brushing teeth twice a day and visiting the dentist regularly, so children can have healthy teeth and gums for a lifetime. DHEC’s Division of Oral Health collaborates with the S.C. Dental Association and the Columbia Marionette Theatre to support a traveling puppet show called “Flora and Floppy go to the Dentist.” The purpose of this interactive show is to teach children what they need to do to have healthy smiles. Some of the key messages in the puppet show are brushing and flossing, going to the dentist, drinking water with fluoride, getting dental sealants, and eating healthy foods.
“The Flora and Floppy puppet show has been able to reach over 35,000 children in schools and Head Start centers across the state with a positive oral health message since it began in 2007,” said Dr. Ray LaLa, director of the Division of Oral Health at DHEC. “The ability to deliver key oral health messages in an entertaining way is an extremely effective way to reach young children and their families.”
Tooth decay a problem among children
Even though tooth decay has been on the decline for the past 30 years, it is still prevalent in children ages 6 to 19. South Carolina’s Oral Health Needs Assessment in 2012 showed a decline in untreated decay, but there is still work to be done, particularly in the more rural areas of the state. For example, over 40 percent of the students screened in 2012 showed they had some form of decay, either treated or untreated. Consistent preventive messages and public health interventions such as community water fluoridation can go a long way to improve the oral health status of children in South Carolina.
Steps to take to protect children’s dental health
Here are some useful tips for parents and caregivers to help protect their children from future dental issues.
- Oral care begins with wiping out the mouths of infants with soft cloth even before the first tooth arrives.
- Once teeth arrive, brush your child’s teeth with fluoridated toothpaste twice a day. Children under age 3 should use a smear of toothpaste, and children over age 3 should use a pea-sized amount.
- Children should be supervised when brushing their teeth until age 6-8.
- Children should visit the dentist regularly beginning at age 1.
- Talk to your pediatrician, family doctor, nurse or dentist about putting fluoride varnish on your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears in the mouth.
- Limit sugary snacks and drinks.
- Talk to your child’s dentist about dental sealants. Sealants protect teeth from decay.
- Have your child drink tap water that contains fluoride. If you have well water, you can contact your water utility company and request a copy of the utility’s most recent “Consumer Confidence Report.” This report provides information on the level of fluoride in your drinking (tap) water.
A healthy mouth is an important part of overall health. To learn more about Children’s Dental Health Month, please visit http://www.ada.org/en/public-programs/national-childrens-dental-health-month.