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Setting oral health goals helps the whole family

February 5, 2011

By Ann Esala, RDH (Registered Dental Hygienist)

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. The American Dental Association (ADA) started the national observance in 1949. The goal was, and still is, to promote the importance of good oral health as part of a child’s overall health.

Teaching children the importance of oral health at an early age is part of total body wellness. When adults practice positive habits, and encourage children to do the same, the benefits are many! Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Spend more time with your toothbrush. Most people, especially children, brush too quickly and leave behind harmful bacterial plaque. Plaque along the gum line can cause bleeding and inflammation called gingivitis. The good news is that gingivitis is reversible simply by thoroughly removing plaque on a daily basis with your toothbrush and floss.
  • Start flossing! Brushing alone does not remove plaque between your teeth. Over time, bacteria left in-between your teeth could result in bone loss called periodontal disease. Periodontal disease has been associated with systemic diseases such as diabetes, stroke, increased risk of heart attack, respiratory illness, and premature or low birth weight babies. If you’re not sure how to correctly brush or floss your teeth, ask your dentist or hygienist to show you.
  • Give up soda. Soda pop, sports drinks, energy drinks, flavored waters, and even juice contain harmful acids that break down and weaken the protective enamel on teeth. Drinking regular water instead of expensive, chemically-laden, acidic beverages will benefit your teeth as well as your pocket book and your entire body!
  • Put down the tobacco. Set great examples for children and teens by not smoking or chewing tobacco. Be aware of the dangers associated with smoking such as respiratory disease, cancer, low birth weight babies, and other complications associated with tobacco smoke. Chewing tobacco can cause disfiguring cancers to the mouth, lips, tongue, throat, and face especially when combined with chronic alcohol use. Tobacco use also contributes to halitosis, a fancy word for bad breath! Check with your medical or dental clinic if you need help kicking the habit for yourself or your teen.
  • Give up annoying oral habits such as nail biting, chewing ice, or biting off fishing line or sewing thread. Habits like these could cause tiny fractures in your teeth that may not be detectable now, but could result in big problems down the road.
  • If you have a dry mouth, often caused by certain medications, you may be at higher risk for tooth decay. Avoid prolonged daily use of breath mints, hard candies, or cough drops. Overuse of these could result in tooth decay especially if held in the same area of the mouth repeatedly. Try sipping water throughout the day, use sugar free gum or mints occasionally, and talk to your medical or dental professional about oral products designed to sooth a dry mouth.
  • If your child sucks their thumb or uses a pacifier into the toddler years and beyond, that habit could cause permanent damage to the occlusion, meaning the way the teeth come together. Thumb sucking or use of a pacifier longer than necessary changes the shape of the maxillary or upper teeth. This change could result in the need for orthodontics, or braces, and may also affect their self-esteem. A reward system may help an older child give up the thumb or pacifier. Talk to your child’s dentist if you’re concerned about thumb sucking or pacifier use.
  • Mouth guards used for sports are very important at any age. If you’re a parent or a coach, teach children to value and protect their teeth while playing sports by using a sport guard. If practiced at an early age, wearing a sport guard will become second nature and could prevent painful and expensive injuries.

In honor of National Children’s Dental Health Month, starting a positive oral habit, or breaking a negative one, is a great way to teach our children that a healthy mouth is a lot more than just a great smile!

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