How to Take Action During Children's Dental Health Month

Wellness in February

Did you know that over 51 million hours of school are missed every year simply because of kids’ poor oral health, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health? It’s a staggering statistic and one that reminds us parents how important dental and health care are to our children. In fact, students experiencing dental pain have been found to be four times more likely to have lower grade point averages than their peers who aren’t experiencing dental-related issues.

So with February being National Children’s Dental Health Month, it’s a perfect time to brush up on the benefits of encouraging all-star smiles from our kids (not to mention ourselves).

The National Education Association has partnered with Renaissance Dental to raise children’s awareness of what it takes to keep a healthy smile. The overall concept includes encouraging children (and their parents) to brush at least two times a day for two-minute intervals—and then to add reading for 20 minutes as a way of combining healthy literacy habits with tried-and-true dental ones. Kids can even download a Brushing and Reading Chart, which they can use to track their ongoing success.

Of course, food and nutrition play a huge part in keeping our smiles healthy. Along with making sure to drink enough water during the day, kids should be encouraged to include plenty of fruits and vegetables in their diets, along with whole grains, lean proteins, and reduced fat dairy products.

It’s important to teach kids from an early age (and even to remind ourselves) that there’s more to dental health than bright white teeth. Protecting and strengthening our pearly whites is just as important.

Help Children Limit Sugary Foods

Dried fruits, crackers, pretzels, cookies, and other foods that get stuck on or in between teeth can be particularly devastating to tooth enamel over time.

Lollipops and hard candies are also detrimental since they expose your back teeth in sugars for prolonged periods of time.

Help Children Avoid Sugary Drinks

These include sodas, fruit juices, sweetened coffee or tea, and even flavored waters. Many dentists also recommend avoiding all sugar-free diet beverages because they often contain citric, malic, or phosphoric acids that can be damaging to teeth. If you choose to drink these, use a straw to bypass teeth.

Sink Your Teeth into These Other Online Resources

Try this really fun (and free) PDF File called “Open Wide,” which includes interactive science-based activities that teach kids more about the importance of healthy teeth when conducting these “experiments” with parents. The fun and colorful flip cards offer ways for kids to find out why drinking sodas with too much sugar can harm their teeth, the importance of flossing (an experiment conducted with peanut butter of all things), how teeth can become stained from different food and drink (using an egg as a tooth-like surface), and more.

The American Dental Association also offers all sorts of online resources that you or your kids can easily access.

By Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, CDN, Health and Nutrition Expert for NBC’s Today Show and founder of Nourish Snacks. Joy’s latest book is From Junk Food to Joy Food.

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