When we think of special events in the month of February, Valentine’s Day always tops the list. February also happens to be National Children’s Dental Health Month, which is a month-long national health observance promoted by the American Dental Association. It brings together dental health professionals in an effort to promote great oral health habits in children. As an orthodontist who treats both children and adults, I am constantly emphasizing the importance of maintaining a clean and healthy mouth and educating my patients on proper oral hygiene techniques.
This year’s slogan from the ADA for National Children’s Dental Health Month is “Brush and clean in between to build a healthy smile.” The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that a child go to the dentist by age one or within six months after the first tooth erupts. Why so early? As soon as a baby has teeth, he or she can get cavities. Preventive dental checkups can help identify early signs of tooth decay before they become a problem and also ensure the implementation of proper oral hygiene techniques. Early trips to the dentist also allow a child to get accustomed to dental visits, which should occur twice a year.
When is the right time for a child to see an orthodontist? The American Association of Orthodontists recommends a checkup with an orthodontic specialist no later than age seven. An early evaluation with an orthodontist allows the identification of potential problems that may require monitoring, or in other cases early treatment. Some examples of situations requiring early treatment are crossbites, oral habits, severe overbite, or severe underbite.
In addition to regular dental visits, proper home oral hygiene is crucial to maintaining a child’s healthy mouth. As a general rule, brushing should be for two minutes, twice daily, and flossing once a day. Oral hygiene is particularly important during orthodontic treatment. Teeth with braces should be brushed minimally three times daily, and I always recommend fluoridated toothpaste and water. A fluoride rinse before bed for orthodontic patients also helps prevent permanent stains or white spots on the teeth that can result from poor oral hygiene.
Another important component allowing for a child’s sparking smile is their diet. What children eat and when they eat it affects not only their general health but also their oral health. Alarmingly, Americans are consuming foods and drinks high in sugar and starches more often and in larger portions than ever before. It’s clear that junk foods and drinks with minimal nutritional value gradually have replaced nutritious foods and beverages for many people.
A steady diet of sugary foods and drinks can ruin a child’s teeth, especially among those who graze or snack throughout the day. When sugar is consumed over and over again in large, often hidden amounts, the harmful effect on teeth can be dramatic. Sugar on teeth provides food for bacteria, which produce acid. The acid in turn can eat away the enamel on teeth, leading to cavities.
In summary, the health of your child’s teeth and gums is contingent upon regular dental visits, proper and consistent brushing and flossing, and a healthy diet. Above all we must make healthy life choices in general and educate our children to do the same. Their teeth (and bodies) will thank you!
Dr. Rothman is the owner and orthodontist at Pinecrest Orthodontics, located in the Dixie Belle Shops at 12197 S. Dixie Highway in Pinecrest, FL. PH: 305.423.4130 pinecrestortho.com. Please email Dr. Rothman with your orthodontic questions at email@example.com.