Dental School brings smiles to kids on Saturday

Writer
School of Dentistry

Oral health is crucial to systemic health—and prevention begins at a much earlier age than most of us realize. That is why the American Dental Association first established National Children’s Dental Health Month, in order to promote awareness and education about the importance of forming good oral health care habits from a very young age.

The observance goes back to Feb. 8, 1949, when dental health was recognized on a single day.  In 1955, the ADA extended this observance to one week. It eventually became the whole month of February in 1981. 

Every year, this outreach benefits about 350,000 children at more than 1,500 events put on by more than 40,000 volunteers ranging from specialists to pre-health students.

UCSF’s School of Dentistry will contribute to NCDHM on Saturday, Feb. 21 at its annual “Give Kids A Smile Day!”  This event features free oral health screenings, instruction, parent education, fluoride varnish and more.

This year, the campaign slogan is “Defeat Monster Mouth.”  The ADA provides free posters, worksheet activities and more featuring a group of hygiene heroes fighting the evil Plaqster the Monster.  The campaign also caters to pre-teens and teenagers with more elaborate hygiene instruction and activities.

In addition to attending UCSF’s “Give Kids A Smile Day,” children should see a dentist within six months after the first tooth eruption and no later than one year old.  Even though these teeth will exfoliate, or fall out, these teeth are actually just as important as a child’s permanent dentition.  Primary teeth allow the child to chew, speak and create space for the permanent dentition.  Dentists can ensure all development is proceeding normally and identify detrimental habits like thumb-sucking or poor diet.  Most importantly, dentists will administer oral health instruction and education to both the child and parents for preventing tooth decay and creating a positive experience.  See the ADA’s new website, MouthHealthy.org, to find more information on oral health care for children.

Find out more at ada.org/en/public-programs/national-childrens-dental-health-month.

Go prepared!  Here are a few tips for at-home care or topics you can ask your provider about at “Give Kids A Smile Day!”

Tooth decay is actually an infectious process.  This means that it can be transferred vertically, from caretaker-to-child, or horizontally, from child-to-child, by sharing eating utensils or drinks.  A child’s oral flora is established very early on, so the longer we can prevent infection, the better the child’s outcome will be!

Don’t brush for 20 minutes after eating!  Immediately after eating, the mouth becomes an acidic environment, and it takes about 20 minutes for the mouth to return to normal pH.  Avoid damaging your enamel by waiting to brush – this is true for all of us!

Help your child develop and understand good brushing and flossing skills by using “Tell-Show-Do.”  Tell your child why oral healthcare is important, and explain techniques or tips you learn from your child’s dentist on a regular basis.  Show your child how to use these techniques by brushing their teeth using hand-over-hand guidance while they watch in the mirror.  This helps them to see and feel what good brushing and flossing looks like.  Let your child do their own brushing and flossing, maybe after you help them, and watch to make sure they are picking up on your instruction.