February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. According to the American Dental Association, this month-long observance brings together thousands of professionals, healthcare providers, and educators to promote the benefits of good oral health to children, their caregivers, teachers and others.
Dr. Stephen Mitchell, a professor in the UAB Department of Pediatric Dentistry and director of the UAB Civitan Sparks Dental Clinic, says good oral health is more than just a smile.
“It’s the entry into our body,” said Mitchell. “It is where bacteria and infection can very often get set up, and if we can maintain good oral health, very often it can lead to just good overall systemic health as well.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cavities are the most common chronic disease of childhood and are preventable. Untreated cavities can cause pain and infection and lead to problems eating, speaking and learning.
Mitchell says parents can begin brushing their children’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears. He says this trains a child at an early age to have good oral health practices. He also advises parents to control the amount of sugar their child eats or drinks, particularly juices, sodas and sports drinks.
“The average child really should not have no more than 4 to 8 ounces of a sweet sugar-containing drink in a day,” said Mitchell.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry says a medical provider should do a child’s first oral exam at six months. The ADA recommends that a child sees a dentist by their first birthday. Mitchell says getting in the habit of seeing a dentist can prevent future problems. He also acknowledges that these visits can be intimidating, especially if the child’s first experience with a dentist is unpleasant.
“When seeing a child for the first time, typically we look into their mouth, brush their teeth, and apply some fluoride, which hopefully creates a positive experience for the child and will help them think positively about visiting in the future,” said Mitchell.
According to Mitchell, parents play a significant role in alleviating their child’s dental fears. He recommends that parents do not make a big deal about the dental visit and treat it like an everyday occurrence. He also says that if the child does not have a good dental appointment, parents should give their child some grace and build on the positive aspect of the visit.
Mitchell says the core of dentistry in America is not treating diseases; it’s preventing them.
For more information on how to take care of your child’s teeth, click here.