Children's Dental Health month a time to encourage building good habits

Tooth decay affects millions of children in the United States, prompting dental professionals to recognize February as Children’s Dental Health Month.

Each year, there is a new focus, and this year, the American Dental Association encourages children to “Brush Your Teeth with Fluoride Toothpaste and Clean between Your Teeth for a Healthy Smile.”

Rachael Simon D.D.S. works at smiles4children, a pediatric practice with an office in Eldersburg that serves infants, children, young adults and special needs individuals.

During Children’s Dental Health Month, she said her practice focuses on visiting preschools and schools to help educate children about building good habits.

She said many schools teach a dental health unit during February, which she and her colleagues can add to.

In the classroom, they do activities and read to the children, hoping to make things engaging and fun.

“We try to make it interactive for the kids as well so they don’t feel like they’re being lectured,” Simon said.

One of the most important messages of Children’s Dental Health Month every year is how common and how preventable tooth decay is.

“Most dental disease is preventable, and it’s preventable by spending two minutes two times a day cleaning your teeth,” said David Williams, Oral Health program manager at the Carroll County Health Department.

Simon said that cavities are the single most common childhood disease, five times more common than asthma.

“Left untreated, tooth decay can cause pain and infections as well as problems eating, speaking, and learning. Tooth decay is responsible for more than 51 million lost school hours each year,” the Maryland Department of Health’s Office of Oral Health wrote in a news release.

According to Williams, dental practitioners always hope for primary prevention, meaning that good habits prevent an individual from ever having a disease in the first place.

“Obviously, it’s easier to treat a disease that you don’t get,” Williams said.

Williams said that a child getting fluoride through more than one source — for example through municipal water or an in-school fluoride program as well as fluoridated toothpaste — is not dangerous and will make the teeth stronger.

“Unless the child eats the whole tube of of toothpaste and they throw up, there’s no real downside,” he said.

The Health Department’s fluoride rinse program “Swish and Smile,” is provided at no charge in elementary and middle schools that do not have fluoridated municipal water, according to previous Times reporting.

In addition to cleaning the teeth, another piece in the prevention puzzle is a person’s diet. In simplistic terms, Williams said that tooth decay is a reaction between teeth, bacteria and sugar. While proper cleaning can eliminate bacteria, a healthy diet can help reduce the amount of sugar in the mix.

Prevention starts with dental appointments at a young age. Pediatric dentists are often more comfortable seeing patients under 2 years old than dentists who don’t specialize in pediatrics, Simon said.

Some dentists treat both children and adults, while some serve only adults and some serve only children. A specialized pediatric dentist has additional years of schooling.

At her practice, the dentists use kid-friendly language, rather than words like drilling or injecting, to make the process less scary. Another thing they try to do is encourage parents to be positive about visits to the dentist’s office so they don’t encourage children to hate or fear it through example.

“The more that they can have a positive experience when they’re younger,” she said, “the more that they’re going to want to take care of their teeth and have a life of good oral health.”

More resources for parents

The Carroll County Health Department Children’s Dental Clinic is available at no cost to pregnant women and children under 18 enrolled in Maryland Medical Assistance Program. Call 410-876-4918 to make an appointment.

More Info:
The American Dental Association
The Academy of General Dentistry
The Maryland Office of Oral Health