Important dental developments occur in children between ages two and the time they start kindergarten, says the American Dental Association (ADA), as February marks its 53rd Annual National Children's Dental Health Month observance. This year's theme is "Don't Let Your Smile Become Extinct."
In keeping a healthy smile, the ADA reminds parents that attitudes and habits established at an early age for their children are critical in maintaining good oral health throughout life.
"This is because tooth decay can occur as soon as teeth appear," explains ADA Consumer Advisor Kimberly Harms, D.D.S., a general dentist from the Minneapolis area. "Most children have a full set of 20 primary (baby) teeth by the time they are age three and we like to see them stay healthy until the adult teeth take their place."
If parents demonstrate that they brush and floss regularly, it is more likely the child will too, she says. Parents also must teach children proper brushing and flossing techniques.
Dr. Harms recommends purchasing an ADA-accepted, child-sized toothbrush. Begin brushing your child's teeth with a little water as soon as the first tooth appears. A pea-sized amount of toothpaste can be used after age two, when the child can spit it out.
Another way to fight tooth decay is to watch how often your child eats, Dr. Harms suggests. "It's almost more important than what they eat because if the child bathes the teeth in snacks and sugary beverages all day, they're setting up a situation where decay can occur easily. It's better to eat regular meals and fewer snacks."
The ADA offers parents the following suggestions:
* Take your child to see the dentist regularly, scheduling a visit to the dentist within six months of the eruption of the first tooth, and no later than the child's first birthday.
* Encourage children to drink from a cup by their first birthday.
* Start brushing the child's teeth with water as soon as the first tooth appears.
* Start flossing when two of the child's teeth begin to touch.
* Brush and floss your child's teeth daily until the child has the dexterity to do this alone.
* Make certain your child gets the right amount of fluoride needed for decay-resistant teeth. Ask your dentist how this can be done.
* Ask your dentist about dental sealants, a thin protective barrier that shields the chewing surface of back teeth against tooth decay.
"Preventive dental care has greatly improved the oral health of American children," Dr. Harms explains. "It is now possible for many children to reach adulthood without ever experiencing tooth decay, and that is why good oral health practices should begin in infancy and continue throughout adult life."
National Children's Dental Health Month is the only national children's dental health promotion recognized by the ADA and its state and local dental societies.