TOOTH TALK: National Children’s Dental Health Month

Dr. Igor Kaplansky

February 2019 is designated the 78th annual National Children’s Dental Health Month by the American Dental Association. This month-long national health observance brings together thousands of dedicated professionals, healthcare providers and educators to promote the benefits of good oral health to children, their caregivers, teachers and others. This year's campaign slogan is "Brush and clean in between to build a healthy smile."

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, early childhood cavities are the number one chronic disease affecting young children. Having cavities is five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever in young children. Tooth pain may keep children home from school or distracted from learning. It’s never too early to think about a lifetime routine of healthy habits to preserve dental health.

A child’s first birthday is the time for that first dental visit, but attention to your child’s oral health begins even before those first baby teeth start to emerge. One often-overlooked fact is that cavities are caused by germs that are passed from adult to child. Babies are born without the bacterium that causes caries, the disease that leads to cavities. Unknowingly, caregivers pass on these germs by sharing saliva when sharing spoons, testing foods before feeding it to babies, by cleaning off a pacifier in their mouth instead of with water, and through other activities. These germs can start the process that causes cavities even before babies have teeth, so do not put anything in your baby’s mouth that has been in your mouth.

Before your baby’s first tooth becomes visible, you should wipe the mouth every day with a soft, moist washcloth. As soon as teeth become visible in the mouth, brush the teeth with a small, soft-bristle toothbrush that contains a pea-sized smear of fluoride-containing toothpaste and encourage your baby to spit out the toothpaste. Get in the routine of brushing your child’s teeth at least twice each day, once in the morning and once at night. The most important brushing is at night when saliva production is lessened.

Think about the foods you give your child throughout the day. Avoid sticky foods and unhealthy snacks like candy, soda or juice in between meals. Establish bedtime routines that do not involve using a bottle with milk or juice. Don’t leave that bottle in their bed or let them have sippy cups for extended times. Natural sugars in milk and juice will get changed to acid, which may rot or decay the teeth.

If you see white spots developing on your baby’s teeth, make sure to take your child to a dentist right away. A white spot is often the first sign of a dental cavity.

As your child’s teeth emerge, your dentist will be on the alert for problems with growth or alignment. Although "baby teeth" will be replaced, proper care and good early habits will pave the way for the permanent teeth that should last a lifetime.

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Children's dental emergencies from injury to an abscessed tooth happen every day. Knowing what to do can lessen the pain and save a tooth that might otherwise be lost.

Toothache? Rinse with warm water to clean the mouth and gently use dental floss or an interdental cleaner to remove any food or other debris that may be caught between the teeth. Never put aspirin or any other painkiller against the gums near the aching tooth; his could burn gum tissue. If the toothache persists, try to see the dentist.

What if your budding athlete knocks out a tooth? Try to find the tooth! This may not be as easy as it sounds on a playing field, so try to stay calm. Hold the tooth by the crown and rinse the root in water if the tooth is dirty, but don’t scrub it or remove any attached tissue fragments. If it’s possible, gently insert and hold the tooth in its socket while you head to the dentist. If that’s not possible, put the tooth in a cup of milk and bring it to the dentist. Time is critical for successful re-implantation, so try to get to your dentist immediately.

If a tooth is chipped or broken, rinse the mouth with warm water to clean the area. Use cold compresses on the outside of the cheek to help reduce the swelling.

If the tongue or lip is cut, clean the area gently with a clean cloth and apply cold compresses to reduce swelling. If the bleeding can’t be controlled, go to a hospital emergency room or clinic. You may able to reduce bleeding from the tongue by pulling it forward and using gauze to put pressure on the wound.

What if an object gets stuck between the teeth? Try to gently remove the object with dental floss; never use a sharp instrument to remove any object that is stuck between your teeth. If you can’t dislodge the object with floss, contact your dentist.

Next time in Tooth Talk, look for information about mouth guards for young athletes and other issues for teens. The American Dental Association has compiled some great games and puzzles for NCDH month at www.ada.org.