By Kathy Ferguson, RN, Parish Nurse
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9 (NIV)
National Children’s Dental Health Month reminds us of the importance of good oral health in children. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, tooth decay is the number one chronic illness in children. Research shows that if a child’s tooth decay goes untreated, it can lead to tooth loss and speech problems. Dental problems also cause 51 million school hours to be lost each year. The good news is that tooth decay can be almost preventable by using safe and effective measures to protect teeth. The following are recommendations from the American Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, and Mayo Clinic.
- Begin caring for your child’s teeth even before they appear. Parents should clean their baby’s mouth starting the first few days after birth by wiping the gums with a clean, moist gauze pad or washcloth.
- Dental visits: Children should start going to the dentist around their first birthday. At the first visit, the dentist will look at the child’s teeth, clean them and apply fluoride. Just like adults, children should go to the dentist every six months.
- Brush: For children younger than 3 years, caregivers should begin brushing children’s teeth as soon as they appear by using fluoride toothpaste in an amount no more than a smear or the size of a grain of rice. For children 3 to 6 years of age, a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste should be used. Teeth should be brushed twice per day (morning and night). Parents should continue to help brush their child’s teeth until about age 6 when the child can brush on their own.
- Floss: When your child has two teeth that touch, you should begin flossing their teeth daily.
- Sealants: A dental sealant is a thin, plastic coating painted on the chewing surfaces of teeth— usually the back teeth—to prevent tooth decay by sealing out plaque and food. Children should get sealants on their permanent molars and premolars as soon as these teeth come in. According to a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, sealants prevent 80 percent of cavities in school-age children.
- Fluoride: Fluoride helps make the teeth stronger to protect against cavities. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste and community water fluoridation can help keep children from getting cavities. Although there has been concern raised about fluoride in our community water supplies, more than 70 years of scientific research has shown that an optimal level of fluoride in community water is safe and effective in preventing tooth decay. The CDC named community water fluoridation one of ten great public health achievements of the 20th century.
Discuss any questions or concerns about any of the previous recommendations with your dentist. It is never to early (or late) to begin taking care of your or your children’s teeth.