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Importance of Oral Health education

— In observance of National Children's Dental Health Month (NCDHM), the American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA) will emphasize the importance of early education on a proper oral health regimen. This focus builds upon the National Dental Hygiene Month message, "It's Simple. Healthy habits for a healthy smile."

"Educating children on the importance of their home care, and teaching proper brushing and flossing, creates a routine of healthy behavior that kids can continue into adulthood, " said Pam Quinones, RDH, BS, ADHA President. "Teaching kids at a young age sends the message that oral health care is important, and this message will have a tremendous impact on their oral and overall health for the rest of their lives. It really is a simple matter of creating habits that keep your mouth, and your entire body, healthy."

To prevent cavities and gum disease, which affect millions of Americans — including children, good oral hygiene routines should be established as early as infancy and continued throughout life. Some tips for parents include:

  • Even before teeth begin to erupt, thoroughly clean your infant's gums after each feeding with a water-soaked infant washcloth or gauze pad to stimulate the gum tissue and remove food. When the baby's teeth begin to erupt, brush them gently with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush using a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste.
  • A small amount of fluoridated toothpaste will help to inhibit decay. Fluoride is also found in mouth rinses, community water supplies, and in some foods.
  • At age two or three, you can begin to teach your child proper brushing techniques. But remember, you will need to follow up with brushing and gentle flossing until age seven or eight, when the child has the dexterity to do it alone.
  • Change your child's toothbrush three to four times a year, and after every illness to avoid bacteria and germs.
  • Limit the amount of sugar children can eat by encouraging them to eat fruits and vegetables for snacks instead of candies and cookies. Also, limit snacking between meals, and make sure they brush afterward.
  • Determine if the water supply that serves your home is fluoridated. If there is not fluoride in your water, discuss supplement options with your dental hygienist.
  • Set a good example for your child by brushing, flossing and eating healthy foods, and scheduling regular oral health visits for yourself.
  • Continually remind your child about the benefits of good oral health and stress the role that nutrition plays in maintaining it.
  • Schedule regular oral health appointments starting around your child's first birthday.
  • Instilling proper oral habits is vital, but even the best oral hygiene routine needs to be supplemented by regular oral health checkups. As preventive oral health experts, dental hygienists are the best educators when it comes to your children's mouths. During a routine visit, your oral health professional will check for cavities in the primary teeth and watch for developmental problems, as well as help to create a positive experience that may alleviate fear at future visits.

Here are some tips for preparing children for oral checkups:

  • Schedule visits to the dental hygienist at a time when your child is likely to be well rested and cooperative.
  • Never mention the words "hurt" or "pain" around your child when discussing an oral health visit. Saying "it won't hurt" instills the possibility of pain into your child's thought process.
  • Do not discuss your own negative experiences in your child's hearing range.
  • Allow and encourage your child to discuss any fear he or she might have about oral health visits.

Instructions on proper oral hygiene are available on ADHA's website, including these diagrams on proper brushing and flossing.

ADHA encourages dental hygienists across the country to get involved during NCDHM to increase public awareness of the specific oral health issues related to children and to help parents understand how prevention plays a key role in optimum health.

ADHA is the largest national organization representing the professional interests of more than 150, 000 dental hygienists across the country. Dental hygienists are preventive oral health professionals, licensed in dental hygiene, who provide educational, clinical and therapeutic services that support total health through the promotion of optimal oral health. For more information about ADHA, dental hygiene or the link between oral health and general health, visit ADHA at

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