While the most prevalent focus of February is on Valentine's sweethearts, parents are well advised to also focus on the proverbial sweet tooth - particularly when it comes to their children. That's because February is National Children's Dental Health Month, an ideal time - according to Health Net, Inc. (NYSE:HNT) - for moms and dads to make sure that sugary snacks, as well as lax dental hygiene - aren't putting their kids at risk for tooth decay.
“is that youngsters who don't receive proper dental care can develop into adults with poor dental health. Poor dental health can lead to heart attacks, strokes, premature or low-weight babies, diabetes complications, and other serious medical issues.”
"It's crucial for parents to make good dental health a central component of their children's lives," explains Robert Shechet, D.D.S., director of dental programs for Health Net, Inc. "What many people don't realize," he adds, "is that youngsters who don't receive proper dental care can develop into adults with poor dental health. Poor dental health can lead to heart attacks, strokes, premature or low-weight babies, diabetes complications, and other serious medical issues."
Good Dental Health from the Start
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, tooth decay is the most common, chronic childhood disease, with more than 40 percent of American youngsters experiencing tooth decay before the age of five. To avoid this outcome, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) encourages parents to bring their offspring to a pediatric dentist by the time their baby's first tooth appears. The AAPD additionally points to studies showing that dental costs for children who have their first dental visit before age one are 40 percent lower - in the first five years - than for those who do not see a dentist prior to their first birthday.
For parents of infants, the AAPD also makes the following recommendations:
- Clean your infant's mouth and gums regularly with a soft, infant toothbrush or a cloth and water;
- Make sure that children older than six months receive fluoride supplements if their drinking water doesn't contain enough fluoride. Fluoride supplementation in infants has been shown to reduce tooth decay by as much as 50 percent. Consult your pediatric dentist for further guidance;
- Wean babies from the bottle by 12 to 14 months of age;
- Brush baby teeth at least twice a day; use a child-sized toothbrush and a small amount of fluoridated toothpaste.
As Your Child Grows
As children get older, the American Dental Association (ADA) advises parents to turn their attention to what their offspring are sipping and snacking on, as this will affect not only their general health, but their oral health as well. The ADA cautions that a steady diet high in sugar can cause significant damage to one's teeth. Specifically, sugar-coated teeth serve as a breeding ground for bacteria; bacteria, in turn, produce acid - and acid can eat away tooth enamel.
To reduce the risks of childhood tooth decay, the ADA makes these suggestions:
- Limit between-meal snacks as much as possible. If a snack is warranted, make a selection that is low in fat, sugar, and starch;
- Allow children to chew only sugarless gum. Chewing sugarless gum after eating can have a positive impact because it increases saliva production, which helps rinse away food and decay-producing acid;
- Encourage youngsters to opt for water or low-fat milk, rather than soft drinks;
- Make sure that children brush their teeth at least twice a day and floss nightly;
- Schedule biannual dental checkups for children and adolescents.
An Added Precaution
"Good dental health also extends to protecting youngsters' teeth when they're playing sports, and even when they're engaged in recreational activities such as rollerblading or snowboarding," says Health Net's Shechet.
In fact, according to the ADA, each year thousands of children and teens injure their teeth while playing football, basketball, baseball and hockey, as well as while engaging in a host of non-team activities such as biking or skateboarding.
Consequently, the ADA recommends that a mouth guard be worn for any athletic or recreational activity that poses a risk of injury to the mouth. The most effective mouth guards, notes the ADA, are resilient, tear-resistant, and comfortable. Additionally, mouth guards should be easy to clean, and not restrict speech or breathing.
To ensure a proper fit, the ADA suggests bringing the child - along with his or her mouth guard - to the dentist. If necessary, the dentist can custom-make a mouth guard to fit the youngster's specific needs.