National Children’s Dental Health Month
Dr. Kara's Health Insights

National Children’s Dental Health Month

by DK Kara MD on Feb 10, 2022

National health observances are meant to bring people together. Raising awareness of certain health issues, and promoting good choices, is what it’s all about. 

Whether you’re a health professional, caretaker, parent, or educator, you want to have the best information out there so you can share it with the rest of the world. 

Part of February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. Addressing common dental issues, proper care, and other bone health awareness are all parts of the puzzle. 

Unlike elephants who go through 6 sets of molars in their life (2), you only get two. So it’s important to take good care of them. 

This year, the American’ Dental Association (ADA) has chosen the theme of “Sealants Make Sense” to address oral health among America's youth. According to Dr. Irene Hilton, sealants can help prevent cavities on adult molars by 80% (1).

And what are sealants? They're defined as a thin, plastic coating that is applied to the surface of molars and premolars. This helps keep food and bacteria out of the grooves and crevices found naturally on top of the teeth (10).

What are other ways you can help your children develop good dental habits? In this article, we’ll explore just that. 

Understanding the Importance of Teeth

Your teeth are an important part of your body, for a couple different reasons.

For Eating

Your mouth is the first point of contact when it comes to digestion and getting nutrients from your food, 

The process of eating involves chewing and swallowing. The first few teeth in the front of your mouth are designed to tear your food, while the teeth in the back (called molars and premolars) are designed to grind and crush it. 

Together, they break down food well enough for you to swallow. This process is called mastication, and has been shown helpful in preventing obesity, encouraging healthy brain development, and even preventing some cancers (10).

For Speech

Teeth also play a big role in areas more than just eating. Speech is also directly affected by the presence (or lack) of your teeth. 

Tooth issues that can impact your ability to speak are (3):

  • Cleft palate
  • Tongue ties
  • Jaw clenching
  • Lisps

Clearly, teeth are pretty important! But how do you explain that to a child? You may not be able to in a way they understand, but you can explore common dental health issues together, along with ways to prevent them.

Dental Problems in Children

Childhood comes with a lot of change. A lot is happening in the body, which can make them vulnerable to all kinds of health issues. 

Some of the most common dental health issues among children are:

  • Bottle tooth decay: Also known as nursing caries or early childhood caries, this happens when baby teeth are decaying due to consistent exposure to sugars. This can come from formulas, fruit juices, milk, or other sweet drinks. This can cause pain, abscesses, and make it harder for the adult teeth to find their proper place. 
  • Thumb sucking: Many toddlers and young children suck their thumbs, some more often than others. It’s not usually a problem unless the pattern continues once the adult teeth start coming in. Then your child runs the risk of developing overbites, which can create speech issues or an increased risk of other dental problems.
  • Lip sucking: This habit involves repeatedly holding the lower lip under the top row of teeth. It can happen alone or with thumb sucking. This can slowly push the teeth forward, creating overbites.
  • Tongue thrusting: This is a habit when the tongue is pressed against the lips during swallowing. The constant pressure against the front teeth can push them forward over time. This can create overbites or other misalignment, which can affect speech (4). 
  • Cavities: Also known as dental caries, cavities are pockets of damage that happen on the surface of your tooth. Decay-causing bacteria wear away at the enamel, creating small holes in the tooth. If left unchecked, the damage can get down into the root of the tooth, leading to pain, infection, and ultimately you losing that tooth (5).

What You Can Do

Preventing tooth decay in your child might seem overwhelming, but there are some daily habits you can start establishing now that will greatly benefit their dental health down the road. 

Such things include:

  • Limit sugar: Processed sugar is one of the biggest enemies of dental health (7). While sugars are found in just about every kind of food these days, doing your best to reduce your child’s sugar intake will help keep their teeth healthy. Try to limit the amount of desserts, treats, candy, juices and other sugary drinks your child gets throughout the day.
  • Encourage more healthy food: Removing unhealthy food options are good, but success only comes if those areas are replaced with healthy options. Colorful fruits and vegetables not only keep the rest of your body healthy, some can even protect your teeth. Raisins have a phytochemical that actually helps prevent bacteria from sticking to your teeth, making them an excellent snack for kids (6).
  • Brush daily: It’s important to make sure sugar and other foods don’t stay on your child’s teeth for long. As saliva breaks down food, particles can get stuck between teeth. Brushing and flossing helps remove those food particles and keep bacteria from wreaking havoc.
  • Stop bad habits: Things like thumb sucking are often seen as comfort or coping mechanisms. Most kids will stop on their own before their adult teeth emerge, but if not you can encourage them with positive reinforcement (praise, rewards, etc).
  • Schedule regular dental visits: Deciding on a good dental health game plan takes a team. Consult with your child’s dentist about any concerns you have, and make note of their recommendations. 

Conclusion

National Children’s Dental Health Month is a time where people of all educational and lifestyle backgrounds come together to celebrate teeth. 

These bits of bone are important not only for eating, but for speech as well. Childhood brings about a lot of potential for dental decay, but it also brings about the potential to make great choices.

Staying away from sugar, brushing daily, eating healthy foods and visiting your dentist all go a long way in keeping your teeth healthy, which can translate into keeping the rest of your child healthy and happy for years to come. 

Do your children understand the importance of healthy teeth? If not, sit down with them and start the conversation today – you’ll be glad you did (and hopefully, so will they).

References & Disclaimers

(1) https://www.ada.org/publications/ada-news/2021/november/2022-national-childrens-dental-health-month-focuses-on-sealants

(2) https://krabielephanthousesanctuary.com/elephants-encyclopedia-teeth/

(3) https://www.sydneyspeechclinic.com.au/ssc/the-importance-of-teeth-in-speech/

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3517276/

(5) https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/tooth-decay

(6) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/06/050613062724.htm

(7) https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=4062

(8) https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/oral-health-problems-children

(9) https://www.lion.co.jp/en/oral/role/02.htm

(10) https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/dental-sealants

✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author