When our twin nieces came for a recent visit, one of them had her first loose tooth. My wife told her if she lost the tooth during her stay, she would get a visit from the Wisconsin Tooth Fairy—cheese and brats under her pillow.
That didn’t go over too well, so our niece was extra careful about holding onto that tooth until she was safely back home.
Of course, sooner or later the Tooth Fairy claims every one of our kids’ teeth, so it could be easy to get lax about caring for them.
But even before they get their permanent teeth, children still benefit greatly from good dental hygiene, which is the message to parents in February, National Children’s Dental Health Month.
This year’s theme is Choose Tap Water for a Healthy Smile, trying to steer children away from sugary drinks that can damage their teeth.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease among children, more than five times more likely than asthma and seven times more prevalent than hay fever.
Aside from the pain cavities cause, they can lead to other issues. A Surgeon General’s report estimated that children missed 51 million hours of school time per year due to dental-related illnesses. A study by USC’s Ostrow School of Dentistry found children with tooth pain were more likely to have lower grade-point averages.
What should parents do to help ensure their children’s teeth are healthy? Periodontists have several recommendations.
The key is to get them started young. Children should make their first trip to the dentist by their first birthday. At 12 months, you can begin brushing their teeth with toothpaste. When the gaps between their teeth close, you can begin flossing. Don’t forget to check their mouths for signs of gum disease.
When children are old enough, it’s important to get them started on the same habits adults already should have. Make sure they brush their teeth for two minutes twice a day. And don’t forget to floss! You can use a log to help them keep track and make caring for their teeth fun.
Teaching children to take care of their teeth pays long-term dividends. Establishing good oral health habits in children is the most important preventive step against periodontal (gum) disease, according to the American Academy of Periodontology.
In addition to the obvious benefits of healthy teeth, doctors have found that oral health has many connections to our overall health.
By teaching your children good dental habits now, you can help them reap the benefits for years to come. And you’ll keep the Tooth Fairy—in Wisconsin, or your neck of the woods—happy.