Establishing healthy dental hygiene habits starts in early childhood. October is National Dental Hygiene Month and Nov. 1 is Brush Day, a themed observance dedicated to helping children learn better techniques for daily dental maintenance.
Dental health affects overall health Dental health affects more than just a child’s smile. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list oral hygiene as an indicator of overall wellness, which may correlate with other aspects of juvenile wellbeing.
“Children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don’t,” the agency reports, as documented by clinicians. Issues related to everyday activities like eating, speaking and reading aloud have also been documented.
Although preventable, cavities and other dental issues are common. The CDC lists key data for children living in poverty and across the income spectrum:
Children between the ages of 5 and 19 from low-income families are twice as likely to have cavities, 25% of the youth population in general living under the poverty line, compared to 11% from high-income households.
More than 50% of all children ages 6 to 8 have already developed a cavity in at least one primary tooth, better known as baby teeth, while more than 50% of adolescents ages 12 to 19 have had a cavity in at least one permanent tooth.
Good oral hygiene habits throughout the lifespan also have a positive effect on longevity. Flossing prevents the buildup of plaque, which turns into tartar and contributes to tooth decay and gum disease, which can cause teeth to separate from the gums and open up crevices prone to infection. Losing adult teeth can also result in the destruction of bone and tissue.
A link between heart disease and oral hygiene is also currently being reviewed in medical circles but correlations with human papillomavirus, certain oral cancers, kidney failure and diabetes have already been established.
Preventing problems: Teach dental hygiene as a lifelong healthy habit
The CDC recommends these best practices, which children will also learn as they grow:
Wipe babies’ teeth clean: Use a soft cloth to wipe teeth clean twice a day, which removes sugars and bacteria that cause cavities.
Use a toothbrush when teeth come in: Choose a soft-bristled toothbrush and use plain water. After age 6, brush children’s teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
Schedule regular dental visits: Experts now recommend dental checkups every six months after a child’s first tooth instead of waiting until toddlerhood. Talk with your dentist about fluoride varnish and sealants.
Drink fluoridated water: Bottled water does not typically contain fluoride. Drinking fluoridated tap water can help protect teeth for people of all ages.
Limit sugar: Prevent cavities by serving water instead of juice or soda and limiting sugary foods like candy and other sweets.
Toothbrushing tips: Brushing teeth for at least two minutes and flossing at least once a day is dentists’ current recommendation. Using an egg timer, toothbrush app or stopwatch to keep children brushing.