February is suddenly upon us, and that means heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolates and candy will be arriving on Valentine’s Day. However, there’s another special occasion to celebrate in February: National Children’s Dental Health Month. The annual occurrence, sponsored by the American Dental Association (ADA), is the perfect time to increase awareness of pediatric dental hygiene. Below are four unique ways to share the importance of dental health with children in February. Just a few small changes today – beginning in a child’s first year – can make drastic impacts on children’s oral health in the future.
1. Remember to brush teeth or clean gums
One simple way to celebrate National Children’s Dental Health Month is with a colorful new toothbrush. In fact, you’re supposed to replace toothbrushes every 3-4 months anyway, so this is a great reminder to do so. According to the ADA, when a toothbrush’s bristles are frayed, they aren’t nearly as effective as they should be. A fun idea is to allow kids to pick out new toothbrushes featuring their favorite characters and colors. Electric or battery-operated ones are even better for brushing teeth thoroughly. And soft bristles are recommended for delicate little teeth and gums. For infants and young toddlers, parents are encouraged to use a soft washcloth to clean gums and teeth every day, because cleaning gums should be done even before the first tooth.
2. Schedule a Visit to the Dentist
One of the best (and easiest) ways to celebrate the theme of this month is by scheduling an appointment at your local dentist’s office. Regular cleanings should occur twice a year, typically every six months. Remember, children should see a dentist when they get their first tooth, or by their first birthday. The sooner children are exposed to bi-annual dental cleanings, the more comfortable they’ll be for their visits moving forward. Many insurance plans and AHCCCS cover regular dental visits for children with little to no out-of-pocket costs.
3. Color a Chart
The ADA offers fun coloring pages and activities online to help little ones celebrate National Children’s Dental Health Month, including a fill-in chart. This is a creative way for kids to color and customize their own tooth-brushing charts to track results. It can be hung in the bathroom as a motivator for little ones to brush twice a day, for two minutes at a time. Parents can make the coloring chart even more fun by offering a reward, such as a special outing or toy after they’ve colored in a full week of consistent morning and nighttime brushing.
4. Make Plaque Appear (Then Disappear)
Since plaque is typically hard to see with the naked eye, some kids may not fully grasp the importance of brushing well. However, a quick demonstration with children using a plaque-disclosing tablet will reveal plaque on the teeth. Adults can show youngsters in a mirror all the areas where the plaque is showing, and where it likes to hide. Then take a moment to allow them to brush the color away until it’s all clear. Sometimes a visual reminder is all it takes for kids to form healthy brushing habits.
Although the chocolates, candies and colorful hearts may take center stage for Valentine’s Day, National Children’s Dental Health Month is much more important for children’s health and well-being. By incorporating one or more of these four suggestions into the month of February, you’ll certainly be showing some love to children’s teeth. And that is something to smile about all year long.
For more information about creating healthy dental habits, including videos and activities for children, visit Teeth.FirstThingsFirst.org.