Oral health and children – It’s a big deal

File Photo By Walt Mares

Contributed Article By Gila County Public Health Department Dental Program Specialist Jolene Martinez

GILA COUNTY – February is National Children’s Dental Awareness Month, and the Gila County Oral Health team would like to celebrate all our county’s littlest smiles! In addition to thoughtful gifts, maintaining good oral health is another crucial aspect of overall well-being. Therefore, it’s essential to consider regular dental check-ups with an Avon Lake OH dentist as part of a comprehensive approach to caring for a teenage girl’s health and happiness.

A healthy mouth starts from infancy and the steps you take today to care for your child’s oral health will have an impact into their adult years.

Most children begin to have their first tooth erupt at six months of age and their last adult teeth (excluding wisdom teeth) will erupt between 11 to 13 years of age. The early stages are an important time to begin creating a home routine for oral hygiene. This includes introducing a healthy diet, morning and nighttime toothbrushing, and routine dental visits. Even before that first tooth erupts, focus on using a clean damp cloth to wipe a baby’s gums after feeding, and try to avoid giving them a bottle at bedtime. Once that first tooth emerges, it is time to start introducing an age-appropriate toothbrush to your infant.  

As your child grows and can follow instructions to rinse and spit, begin by using a small pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste on the toothbrush. If your child is having difficulty understanding how to rinse and spit, try using a plastic cup to have them use for rinsing and spitting into. This method may help as the sink can seem large and overwhelming to a small child, not to mention it can be difficult for them to cup water in their tiny hands.

It’s recommended that until they are six years old, you should assist your child with toothbrushing due to their decreased dexterity in maneuvering the toothbrush. Your assistance will ensure they are cleaning all tooth surfaces and helping them maintain a good brushing routine. When it comes to home care, there are a couple of tips to help increase child participation. These include using a toothbrush with their favorite character or color and incorporating a favorite song or video they can watch while they are brushing. The use of a sticker/reward chart is a beneficial tool to track their progress and motivate them to participate. Another helpful strategy is to brush right after dinner if your child resists brushing at night because they are too tired before bed. This can help until they get a little older and can understand the importance of brushing on their own before bed.

Flossing is a critical step to begin adding to the routine once children are elementary-aged getting more teeth! For children, a good way to introduce flossing is using children’s floss picks, which usually come in animal shapes as handles and are less intimidating than string floss. The picks are easy for kids to use and are critical in removing food and bacteria from between their teeth, where their toothbrush can’t reach. It’s important for safety to keep an eye on them when using the floss picks at first to make sure they are gently placed between the teeth and using a side-to-side or sweeping motion rather than just going up and down with the floss. Encourage your children to floss at least once a day and explain to them why it’s important and how their toothbrush can’t reach that area. You can also use a fun activity like placing a small ball of playdough between an upside-down ice tray and then demonstrating to kids how a toothbrush can’t remove/reach the playdough, but using dental floss you can get in-between and remove the playdough ball. It’s a fun, hands-on activity to give the kids a visual of what flossing does!

A child’s oral health is important because it impacts not just their smile on the surface but their whole body and overall health. A child’s oral health has a whole-body connection and can affect many aspects of their health and daily life activities. One example of this whole-body connection is the relationship between nutrition and oral health. A child who has sensitive teeth due to decay may resist eating certain foods or may not chew food completely due to tooth pain, which can lead to malnutrition. Another consequence of decreased oral health in children can be alertness or behavior while in school. If a child is suffering from tooth pain, this can affect their focus and behavior in class.

Young teenagers and young adults also need to focus on their oral health care, as they can suffer from increased tooth decay. This can lead to tooth loss if they do not keep up adequate home care because it allows bacteria and sugars to erode enamel and damage the teeth’s nerves and roots. Teenagers can begin to show signs of gingivitis, which is bright red, swollen gums that easily bleed during brushing or flossing. Gingivitis is caused by a build-up of plaque around the base of the tooth and gums, which irritates the gums. Talk to your teen about getting back to a good home routine of brushing twice a day and flossing at least once can begin to alleviate these systems, leading to a brighter smile and fresher breath. Lastly, teenagers and young adults can develop gum disease, called periodontal disease, from a build-up of plaque, which causes inflammation in and around the gums. If not detected and treated, the inflammation can eventually cause harmful bacteria to get into their bloodstream later, affecting their heart and lung health when they are older.

The good news, though, is that simple changes can make a big difference! It’s never too late to start an oral care routine at home for your little one or begin encouraging your pre-teen or teenager to begin caring better for their smile. Small steps in the right direction will make a lifetime of difference and we hope you will be encouraged to talk to your children about the importance of caring for their teeth.  

For more information, contact Jolene Martinez at the Gila County Public Health Department at 928-200-8490.