This is Part 2 in a multi-week series of blogs focused on the ABCs of Healthy Kids. Learn more at www.snohd.org/healthykids.
Top Three Take-Aways:
- Baby teeth matter. Dental health affects overall health and child development, so it’s important to start good habits even before the first teeth break through.
- Healthy habits can prevent dental disease. These include brushing and flossing daily, avoiding sugary food and drinks, and going in for routine dental appointments.
- Cost should not be a barrier to children’s dental care. The Health District maintains a list of dental providers who accept Apple Health (Medicaid) or offer services for uninsured children.
Dental health is important from Day 1
Dental disease is one of the more common chronic diseases in childhood. It’s also largely preventable and best addressed early. In fact, dental health is something to start considering even before babies’ first teeth come in.
A healthy mouth and teeth play a big role in a child’s development. They help children chew and eat properly and speak clearly. Baby teeth shape the child’s face as they grow and guide the adult teeth into place.
Babies usually start teething around 6 months old, though it varies from child to child. By age 3, most children have all 20 baby teeth. They’ll lose those typically between the ages of 6 and 12.
Cavities in baby teeth can lead to cavities in permanent teeth. Early intervention and treatment saves time and money, prevents pain, and improves health in the long run.
Thankfully, cavities and tooth decay are preventable with a healthy diet, brushing and flossing, and regular dental care, which includes check-ups and cleanings. Get your child set up with a dentist and bring them in for routine care. The first visit should be by the time they are 1 year old, or when they get their first teeth.
Early childhood is a crucial time for building good habits, and those habits should be reinforced as the child grows up. Even young adults can use a reminder now and then.
You can also help children avoid cavities by limiting sugary food or drink. Give children plain water instead of juice or other sweet drinks when possible, especially if a young child is taking a sippy cup to nap or bedtime. Try to make toothbrushing and dentist visits seem normal and comfortable rather than inconvenient or scary.
As a parent or guardian, you can model good behavior – if you’re going to ask your child to go to the dentist, brush and floss, then you should do all of that, too!
- Brush at least twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. After breakfast and shortly before bed are good general rules for timing.
- Floss at least once a day, focusing on where the sides of children’s teeth touch each other.
- Brush after sugary snacks or drinks, or you can rinse with water if a toothbrush isn’t handy.
- Brush the tongue as well as the teeth. Brush in tiny circles over the teeth and tongue for at least two minutes total.
- Replace toothbrushes every three or four months, or sooner as needed.
- Get your baby used to dental hygiene by gently cleaning their gums with a clean, soft cloth after feeding. As the first teeth arrive, you can use a soft wet cloth or a soft infant toothbrush with a tiny smear of fluoridated toothpaste, about as big as a grain of rice.
- Teach young children to brush and floss, but keep assisting them. Around age 4 or 5, they can practice brushing their own teeth, but you should continue to help until they are 8 years old or can tie their own shoes.
Bring any specific questions to your child’s doctor or dentist. Children should have an oral health screening by their first birthday or the arrival of their first tooth. A dentist or doctor can look for signs of tooth decay, risk factors, and may give a fluoride varnish or take other measures to help prevent or reverse early tooth decay.
What if I can’t afford dental care?
There are resources to help. If your child does not currently have insurance, you can learn more and sign up online. Regular dental care prevents more costly problems and is much less expensive long-term for both the family and society as a whole.
The Access to Baby and Child Dentistry program, or ABCD, focuses on expanding access to dental care for Medicaid-eligible (Apple Health) children ages 5 or younger. Starting this year, the ABCD program also includes children with disabilities who are 13 or younger and have a Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) indicator.
The Snohomish Health District maintains a list of dentists who provide services to patients insured by Apple Health or who do not have dental insurance. Download the Low-Cost Dental Resource List at www.snohd.org/571/Find-a-Dentist, or call?425-339-5219?to have the list mailed to you. This list is available in English, Spanish, Russian, Korean, Chinese, Arabic, Tagalog, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese.
DentistLink is a free referral service available to anyone in Washington. Referral specialists can connect families to a dentist and help with scheduling, transportation, and childcare. Interpreter services are available. Call or text 844-888-5465, or visit www.dentistlink.org.
Other questions can be submitted to the Health District’s ABCD coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org, 425-339-5219.
Take some time now to check off the “B” in the ABCs of healthy children. Are you helping your child brush and floss daily? Have they been in for their regular dental visit?
Good dental health from Day 1 has positive, lifelong impacts on overall health and wellness.