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During February, we celebrate National Children’s Dental Health Month. The theme this year is “Sealants Make Sense.” A dental sealant is a thin, plastic coating that is painted on the biting surface of a back tooth to prevent tooth decay. Sealants block food and decay-causing germs from going into the narrow pits and grooves of the teeth where decay is most likely to occur. Dental sealants prevent the most common type of tooth decay seen in school-aged children today. Your child can get dental sealants at the dentist’s or maybe at school.
Recent studies show that about 50 percent of third grade schoolchildren in Ohio have one or more sealants on their permanent (adult) teeth. The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) promotes the use of sealants through grant funds that support school-based dental sealant programs and by sharing the most current guidelines on the use of sealants. Learn more about sealants.
Here are some other ways that you can make sure your child gets off to a good start for oral health:
Oral health begins at birth, even before the first tooth erupts. A baby’s mouth should be cleaned after each feeding, using a soft washcloth or a damp piece of gauze to clean the gums. Once the first tooth erupts, use a soft toothbrush with a fluoridated toothpaste. As the child gets older, remember to use the right amount of toothpaste. Follow these tips:
Drinking water is essential for overall health. When your child drinks water with fluoride, they also get protection from tooth decay. Fluoride helps prevent cavities in people of all ages, but it’s especially important in helping children get off to a good start. Fortunately, more than 93 percent of people in Ohio who get their water from a public water system drink fluoridated water.
Community water fluoridation is said to be one of the ten great public health achievements of our time. In 1951, Avon Lake (Lorain County) and Westerville (Franklin County), Ohio became the first communities to fluoridate their drinking water. Learn more about the benefits of water fluoridation by visiting the Life is Better with Teeth website.
Meal and snack choices can play a big part in the health of teeth and gums. Choose a balanced diet for your child that includes foods that provide important vitamins and minerals: fruits and vegetables, breads and cereals, milk and dairy products, and meat, fish and eggs. Between meals, provide healthy, low-sugar snacks. Avoid sweets that are sticky, crackers, chips and other “simple starches.” Limit how often snacks are eaten.
Consider water over sugar-sweetened drinks for your child. A serving of soda, juices (even those that are 100 percent juice), and sports drinks contain many teaspoons of sugar. Do not put your baby down to sleep with a bottle that contains milk, formula, juice, or other sweetened drink. An infant should be held while feeding and avoid propping a bottle with a pillow or any other object to hold the bottle in the infant’s mouth. Also, avoid letting your child carry a sippy cup or bottle around throughout the day unless it contains plain water. Frequently “bathing” the teeth with a sugar-sweetened beverage can easily lead to tooth decay.
Did you know that experts recommend that a child’s first visit to the dentist should be at the time the first tooth erupts but no later than one year of age? It’s very important that your child keeps their primary (baby) teeth until they fall out on their own. Primary teeth help a child:
It’s best to take your child to the dentist before problems start. The dental hygienist or dentist can show you how to clean your child’s teeth and talk to you about ways to prevent cavities, such as using fluoride and limiting sugar in the diet. Preventing dental problems when your child is young will save time, money and teeth as your child gets older.
Fluoride varnish is one of the easiest ways to prevent tooth decay and keep small cavities from getting bigger. It’s painted on the teeth and hardens as soon as saliva touches it and can be applied as soon as babies get their first teeth. You can get fluoride varnish applied to your child’s teeth at the dental office, or at the doctor’s office during routine check-ups. Fluoride varnish is often applied every 3-6 months, but your child’s doctor or dentist will decide how often your child needs it. Learn more about fluoride varnish by viewing this fact sheet.
Contact the Ohio Department of Health, Oral Health Program at BMCFH@odh.ohio.gov for more information.