State Health Officer

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Help Your Children Buld a Healthy Smile for Overall Health

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, and it is a time to remind parents how important a healthy smile is for the overall health and self-esteem of children and teenagers. Cavities (also known as caries or tooth decay) are one of the most common chronic conditions of childhood in the United States. Untreated cavities can cause pain, and infections that may lead to problems with eating, speaking, playing, and learning.

Cavities are caused by a breakdown of the tooth enamel by acids produced by bacteria located in a film that collects on teeth. Although cavities are largely preventable, 21 percent of children aged 6-11 years had at least one cavity in their permanent teeth in 2011-2012.

The American Dental Association (ADA) notes that Americans are consuming foods and drinks high in sugar and starches more often and in larger portions than ever before. For example, in the U.S. individuals consume approximately 50 gallons of sugary beverages per year. Common activities that include grazing habitually on foods with minimal nutritional value, and frequently sipping on sugary drinks contribute to the tendency toward tooth decay. Starches can be found in everything from bread to pretzels to salad dressing, so read labels and plan carefully for a balanced, nutritious diet.

The ADA offers the following tips for parents to reduce their children’s risk of tooth decay:

  • Consume sugary foods and drinks with meals. Saliva production increases during meals and helps neutralize acid production and rinse food particles from the mouth.
  • Limit between-meal snacks. If kids crave a snack, offer them nutritious foods.
  • If your kids chew gum, make it sugarless. Chewing sugarless gum after eating can increase saliva flow and help wash out food and decay-producing acid.
  • Monitor beverage consumption. Children should make healthy beverage choices such as water and low-fat milk.
  • Help your children develop good brushing and flossing habits.
  • Schedule regular dental visits.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than other children receive. Teaching children to develop the habit of brushing and flossing, along with regular dental visits, helps them keep healthy smiles.

Scott Harris, M.D.
State Health Officer

(February 2019)

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Page last updated: February 6, 2019