By third grade, more than half of Illinois children will have a cavity—something that good oral health habits can prevent. February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. While good oral health should be a priority every month, now is a perfect time to begin laying the foundation for a lifetime of healthy smiles for your child.
More than just teeth at stake
Did you know that children’s oral health affects far more than their teeth?
Many parents are unaware that their child’s oral health can have a direct effect on their child’s overall health and well-being. Pain from cavities can cause insomnia and affect eating habits. Diabetes, respiratory infections and even cardiovascular disease also can be exacerbated by poor dental health practices that are developed during childhood.
Dental health issues can negatively impact a child’s wellness in ways that go beyond their physical health. Pain can interfere with a child’s ability to eat, speak, concentrate and even smile. When children have complications from poor oral health, their self-esteem can also suffer. Faced with these issues, children who have dental health problems can be forced to miss school, affecting their learning and causing parents to miss work.
“But it’s just a baby tooth”
Many parents have the misconception that a cavity in a baby tooth doesn’t matter, since it will fall out and be replaced by an adult tooth. The fact is, healthy baby teeth are incredibly important because dental disease in baby teeth can affect permanent teeth. Bacteria that cause decay can pass down from a diseased baby tooth into a permanent one. In addition to causing cavities in permanent teeth, untreated tooth decay can also lead to infection and affect a child’s overall health.
A baby’s first tooth typically appears when the child is between 4 and 7 months old, and plaque isn’t far behind. Tooth decay can occur as soon as teeth appear in the mouth. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a child visit the dentist within six months of getting the first tooth, and no later than their first birthday. Visiting the dentist early can benefit not only children, but also parents. A dental visit can help prevent tooth decay and establish a good relationship between a child and a dentist. Parents are also able to learn how to care for children’s teeth directly from a dentist.
The state of Illinois children’s oral health
Cavities are almost 100 percent preventable – not an inevitable part of childhood. The 2016 Delta Dental of Illinois Children’s Oral Health Survey found that close to 29 percent of Illinois children had at least one cavity in the past year and that 35 percent of Illinois children had visited the dentist only one time or fewer during that period.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only troubling finding about Illinois children’s oral health. In addition, the study found:
- 83 percent of parents with children under 3 who use sippy cups allow their children to nap with the cup at least a few times per week. This is a problem because a sippy cup containing juice or milk may leave sugar and acids on children’s teeth, creating a major risk factor for tooth decay. Giving your child water at naptime instead of milk or juice can greatly reduce the risk for cavities.
- 22 percent of parents with children 12 and under say they have never brought their children to a dentist.
- 30 percent of parents say their children never floss.
On the other hand, there are optimistic findings from the study. The following statistics show that Illinois parents care about their children’s oral health and take steps to protect it:
- 89 percent of parents say their children brush their teeth once a day; 60 percent say their children brush at least twice a day.
- 67 percent of parents think about their child’s oral health every day.
- 87 percent of children have dental coverage.
Laying the foundation for good dental health habits
With adult supervision, children should brush their teeth twice daily for two minutes, floss daily, and use a fluoride rinse. Children should also visit a dentist at least twice a year, where they can receive sealants and fluoride varnish which help protect teeth. To encourage good oral health, you should also:
- Encourage healthy eating by providing snacks that are tooth-friendly, such as cheese, yogurt and crunchy fruits and vegetables.
- Discuss with your dentist having sealants placed on your child’s new molars.
- Supervise your child’s brushing until they turn 8.
Encouraging your child to form good oral health habits doesn’t need to be stressful. Think about how you can make brushing fun. Try:
- Singing your child’s favorite song that’s about two-minutes long (the amount of time a child should brush) while they’re brushing.
- Letting your children brush your
- Enthusiastically cheering your child on for each tooth brushed.
- Providing small awards for consistent brushing.
These are just a few of the many ways you can make brushing a fun experience, while avoiding painful and costly trips to the dentist. Most of all, you are instilling good habits in your child, a gift that will last a lifetime.