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Brush, Floss, Smile!

Child in dental chair

Oral health is an important piece to our overall health and can impact your life in every way. During February, The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) is celebrating National Children’s Dental Health Month.

Oral hygiene begins before your children get their first tooth! Which is why it’s important to get them used to daily brushing and flossing early. Once the first tooth comes in, teach your children the basics of toothbrushing, twice a day, for two minutes each time. Once two of the teeth start to fit closely together (usually between ages 2-6), floss once a day. Why are brushing and flossing so important? Both remove plaque, a sticky coating made up of food and bacteria, from teeth. The bacteria in plaque feed on the sugar from the foods and beverages we eat and drink and produce acids that dissolve minerals in the tooth. If this happens often enough, slowly the tooth will form a cavity. Getting your children to brush or floss their teeth can be hard, this video by mouthhealthy.org has tips on making tooth brushing fun for them.

Tooth Care Begins at Birth
Teeth may not start to come in for a few months, but you can give your baby a head start on oral health. 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 their first tooth comes in, use a soft toothbrush with a fluoridated toothpaste. As the child gets older, remember to use the right amount of toothpaste:

  • Use a smear (the size of a grain of rice) of toothpaste for children under 3 years old.
  • Use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste for ages 3 to 5.

Schedule the First Dental Visit
Experts recommend that a child’s first visit to the dentist should be at the time the first tooth comes in, but no later than one year of age. It’s very important that your child keeps their baby, or primary teeth until they fall out on their own. Primary teeth help a child:

  • Chew properly and eat nutritious foods.
  • Learn to speak normally. 
  • Hold space for the permanent (adult) teeth.
  • Be confident smiling.

Preventing dental problems when your child is young will save time, money, and teeth as your child gets older. Dental hygienists or dentists can show you how to clean your child’s teeth and talk to you about ways to prevent cavities, such as eating a healthy diet, using fluoride, and using dental sealants.

Provide a Healthy Diet
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.

Offer your child water instead of sugary drinks. 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. A baby should be held while feeding instead of propping a bottle with a pillow or any other object to hold the bottle in their mouth. Frequently covering the teeth with a sugar-sweetened beverage can easily lead to tooth decay.

Provide Fluoridated Water
Drinking water has many benefits for your health. More than 93 percent of Ohioans who get their water from a public water system get an added benefit: protection from tooth decay. 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.

Consider Fluoride Varnish
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 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 healthcare provider or dentist will decide how often your child needs it. Learn more about fluoride varnish on this fact sheet by ODH. 

Get Dental Sealants
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.

This is a graphic of dental sealants.

Source: CDC

Studies show that about 50 percent of third grade schoolchildren in Ohio have one or more sealants on their permanent teeth. 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.

Schedule your child’s next dental appointment to keep them on track for a healthy smile!