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Focus on Children’s Oral Health

It’s February … and for those of us in oral healthcare we know it’s time for National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM)!

It’s February … and for those of us in oral healthcare we know it’s time for National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM)! What started as a 1-day event in 1949 has now become a month-long celebration that focuses on the importance of youngsters’ oral care. This year, the theme is “Brush, Floss, Smile!” It’s a perfect message to help us highlight how good oral health impacts one’s well-being, starting in childhood.

The American Dental Association (ADA) Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention is responsible for planning the NCDHM theme and developing the supporting materials to emphasize its message. This year, posters, flyers, and postcards are available to download or order.

All of the materials can be used not only in dental and dental hygiene operatories, but by teachers, caregivers, and medical personnel. Additional items geared toward children include puzzles, coloring activities, and a toothbrushing calendar. With their bright colors and fun messaging, they strive to inspire healthy oral hygiene and good habits to last a lifetime. And they are all available in both English and Spanish.

According to the recently released “Global Oral Health Status Report” from the World Health Organization, untreated dental caries in deciduous teeth is the single most common chronic childhood disease and affects 514 million children around the world.1

In the United States, we tend to think that our focus on prevention leads the rest of the world and thus translates to lower caries rates in children. However, we know that caries is a problem in this country, and that it can be prevented. Statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that in the US, individuals ages 5 to19 have a caries prevalence rate of 13%.2 This should be a wake-up call to all who understand how vital oral health is to overall health.

How can we use this information? By promoting the ADA’s website—ADA.org/​ncdhm—we can be ambassadors to key stakeholders. These include educators, parents, caregivers, primary care physicians, nurses, and many more. And of course, our own roles as dental hygienists will enable us to share these materials. Key techniques to help with messaging are:

  • Anticipatory Guidance. Engage those we communicate with in a way that focuses on the individual child. Explain the benefits of good oral health as it relates to that child’s circumstances and offer preventive and treatment options.
  • Age-Appropriate Learning. Use different approaches for adults and children. Adults need to know the “why” of learning a technique while children are in the process of developing skills. When counseling adults on the importance of good oral health for children, use the adult’s experiences and acquired knowledge to craft a message. Children typically learn out of curiosity and the desire to develop skills.

It’s great we have an entire month devoted to children’s oral health. However, everyone’s commitment shouldn’t be confined to February alone. Let’s do this all year long!

Jill Rethman, RDH, BA
Editor in Chief
jrethman@belmontbusinessmedia.com

References

  1. World Health Organization. Global Oral Health Status Report Toward Universal Health Coverage for Oral Health by 2030. Available at: who.int/​publications/​i/​item/ฬ. Accessed January 23, 2023.
  2. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oral and Dental Health. Available at: cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/dental.htm. Accessed January 24, 2023.

From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. February 2023; 21(2)6.

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