February is National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM). It was first observed on February 8, 1949, and was later expanded to a month-long observance in 1981. It is dedicated to sharing messages and resources regarding the importance of children’s oral health. It is also designed to bring healthcare providers, educators, caregivers, community members and many others together to promote the benefits of oral health in children.
American Indian and Alaska Native children specifically, ages 1 to 5, have the highest rate of tooth decay in the United States. Children with tooth decay may experience pain and infection that could potentially result in life-long health issues and possibly oral surgeries. However, steps can be taken to prevent this. Poor oral health can be changed!
Read on as we offer tips and tricks to prevent tooth decay. We also list ways to bring awareness to dental health for children in your community.
Milestones, or “smilestones,” in checking your child’s teeth are as follows:
- Before the first tooth appears: Begin good habits. Use clean, damp washcloths to wipe away milk/formula off baby’s gums twice a day.
- 3 to 6 months: Teeth brushing should begin twice a day with infant-size toothbrush.
- After the first tooth appears or before the first birthday: Visit the dentist! Appointments should occur every six months following.
- Less than 3 years old: Brush teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day. The size of a grain of rice is ideal.
- By 3 years old: Children should have 20 primary teeth.
- After 3 years old: Brush teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day until age 6. A pea-sized amount is great.
Ways to share information with children in your community include:
- Create dental hygiene kits or checklists for children and their families in your community (kits can include a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and timer).
- Host Zoom sessions to share information on proper teeth brushing and flossing techniques using puppets or teeth models to engage students through storytelling.
- Host oral health storytelling on Zoom or through live streaming videos (ex. Coyote and Little Man).
- Share creative videos that children can watch, or better yet, create a video using your language that children can follow along with for proper brushing and flossing techniques.
- Create a resource list of dental providers, clinics and tribal programs for families.
- Share other ways families can protect their children’s teeth such as mouth guards, fluoride, dental sealants and Silver Diamine Fluoride.
Be proactive with your child's dental health and help create habits that will last through adulthood! Be sure to also prioritize your own oral hygiene, too. Little eyes are taking notes on all that you do.