Hygienists emphasize kids' tooth decay prevention

Jan. 23, 2006
American Dental Hygienists' Association declares initiative for National Children's Dental Health Month.

Chicago -- In observance of National Children's Dental Health Month (NCDHM) in February, the American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA) emphasizes the importance of preventive dental hygiene care to prevent tooth decay for children due to several unique factors affecting younger Americans.

"The process of caring for children's oral health is imperative to a long, healthy life and a healthy smile," said Katie L. Dawson, RDH, BS, ADHA president. "On the frontline of defense against oral disease, dental hygienists play a key role in educating both kids and their parents about how to care for your mouth and why good oral health is so vital to overall health."

From the time a baby's primary teeth appear, parents should include oral care in their regular head-to-toe hygiene routine. For example, they can use a small, soft-bristled infant toothbrush dampened with water to clean the gums gently after feedings and before bedtime. Later, by age 2 or 3, parents can teach their children how to brush with a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste.

Most children should visit an oral health care provider for the first time at about age 1. This first infant/toddler category runs from birth to 4 years old. A major area of concern for this age group is early childhood caries (cavities) or what's more commonly known as "baby bottle tooth decay." A dental hygienist can work with parents to make recommendations on how to avoid this serious ailment.

For children ages 5 to 9, some key oral care considerations include risk assessment for caries (cavities), periodontal (gum) disease, and potential application of sealants. Parents should continue to help their children care for their teeth until age 7 or 8 when they have enough dexterity to brush and floss alone.

A dental hygienist performs oral care assessments, cleans teeth above and below the gumline and applies cavity-preventive agents, such as fluorides and sealants to the teeth. These services transcend to the next age group, in addition to injury prevention (athletic mouthguards) and care of appliances.

Adolescents ages 10 to 18 may also require additional educational counseling on nutrition by the dental hygienist, particularly the intake of sucrose (sugar) and soft drinks. The importance of proper dental hygiene is raised to an even higher level when a child is undergoing orthodontic treatment (appliances/braces).

The significance of the oral health affects of cigarettes, spit tobacco, alcohol and drugs is another key area in which a dental hygienist can partner with parents to help educate this age group on habits that can affect overall health for a lifetime.

ADHA encourages dental hygienists across the country to get involved during NCDHM this February 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 fact sheets about this topic and other oral health issues, visit www.adha.org/media or www.adha.org/oralhealth/index.html.