Building upon its National Dental Hygiene Month theme of "A Healthy Smile Lasts a Lifetime," the American Dental Hygienists' Association will emphasize the importance of proper oral health care for children in observance of National Children's Dental Health Month (NCDHM) in February.
"It is important that we promote healthy oral hygiene habits while children are young so that they can continue these routines as they grow older," says Diann Bomkamp, RDH, BSDH, ADHA president. "National Children's Dental Health Month is a great opportunity for dental hygienists nationwide to provide children and their parents with the education to build these habits."
Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease of childhood. With children ages 2-11, 41 percent had tooth decay in their primary (baby) teeth. The occurrence of tooth decay gets higher with age, as one in five children aged 6-11 had tooth decay in their permanent teeth, compared with 50 percent of children aged 12-15 and 68 percent of adolescents aged 16-19.
Regular oral hygiene routines should begin as early as infancy and continue throughout life. Here are some tips recommended by registered dental hygienists:
• Clean your infant's gums after each feeding with a water-soaked infant washcloth or gauze pad to stimulate the gum tissue and remove food.
• Avoid allowing your child to sleep with a bottle, unless filled with water. The sugars in milk, formula, juice or other sweet liquids can produce acid and cause baby bottle tooth decay.
• The Missouri Health Department suggests that when the baby's teeth begin to erupt, brush them gently with a small soft-bristled toothbrush using a smear of fluoridated toothpaste. At age two or three, teach your child proper brushing techniques.
• Schedule regular oral health appointments starting around your child's first birthday.
• Find out if the water supply in your home is fluoridated. If it is not, discuss supplement options with your dental hygienist. Children who are at low risk of dental decay can stay cavity-free through frequent exposure to small amounts of fluoride.
• Mouth guards should be worn for all contact sports, sports that include a ball and any extreme sports like skateboarding or rollerblading.
• Limit the amount of sugar children eat and encourage them to brush after every meal.
ADHA encourages dental hygienists across the country to get involved during NCDHM to increase public awareness of the specific oral health issues related to children and to help parents understand how prevention plays a key role in optimum health.
For more information about this topic and other oral health issues, visit www.adha.org.