February is Dental Hygiene Month
By Frank Ruggiero
February is Children’s Dental Hygiene Month, and area dentists have a mouthful to say about it.
From left, dentists Michael Mayhew, Stacy Conn and Nicole Scheffler stand with their office mascot to promote Children’s Dental Hygiene Month in February. Photo by Frank Ruggiero
Dental hygiene for children means more than just a pretty mouth, as the early years are an essential time for dental growth. A neglected mouth could result in dental problems that span into adulthood, said Dr. Stacy Conn of the Orthodontic Pediatric Offices of Michael Mayhew, Nicole Scheffler and Stacy Conn.
“When you take care of the baby teeth, that’s going to start healthy habits for the rest of their life,” she said.
Marilyn Stanley, dental hygienist with Conn’s office, said Children’s Dental Health Month is to make parents and the public aware of the importance of dental health for children, particularly the sometimes overlooked importance of primary or baby teeth.
“They’re actually important,” Conn said. First of all, she continued, a parent doesn’t want their children’s teeth to hurt and decay, which also affects nutrition, since a child wouldn’t want to eat with aching teeth.
“A few of us are born with strong and healthy teeth, and we need to learn how to take care of them,” Conn said, suggesting parents ease their children into the healthy habits of regular brushing and fluoride treatment.
During the special month, Conn said pediatric dentists hope to make parents more aware of good habits and bad habits alike. Some habits are good up to a point, such as sucking on a pacifier or thumb, which should not be done past the age of three.
Primary or baby teeth are developed around four to six months after birth, Conn explained, and said the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends parents find a dental home for their children around that time.
Conn’s office offers complimentary first visits, otherwise known as “Happy Visits,” at age one, where hygiene, fluoride and good dental habits are discussed with parents.
“We’ll teach parents how to do it,” she said. “The children don’t have to floss much until they’re four or five, when the molars start to come in. Before that, they don’t need to floss. Parents just have to help them brush.”
Also during the first visit, Conn and staff stress the importance of diet, particularly the amount of juice consumed by the child. Conn recommends very little, and said a child doesn’t need to have juice all day, or in bed at night, unless the child brushes right afterward.
Plaque left on teeth reacts with sugar from foods to produce an acid that causes tooth decay, she said.
Children should also be weaned off the bottle after age one, Conn continued, as formula or milk can stick to teeth at night, as well. Children lose their front incisors around age six, when they begin to develop their six-year permanent molars. When those teeth arrive, Conn and staff begin talking sealants, which are placed on the chewing surface of teeth to prevent cavities.
Conn said 80 percent of cavities will develop on the chewing surface. Soon after, children develop mixed dentician, which is primary and permanent teeth in the mouth at once. When a child is 11 or 12 years old, he’ll typically lose the rest of the primary teeth and permanent teeth begin to erupt.
“The earlier in life they start caring for them, the earlier they can join the cavity-free population,” Conn said. “Our goal is to get rid of poor habits and neglect and get them on the right steps.”
Even at 12 years-old, children must maintain healthy habits. Snacks, Conn said, should be limited to only three or four a day, if that many, and that the rule doesn’t only pertain to junk food, but any food. For instance, she said, bananas are healthy, but high in sugar.
Juice is not as frequently consumed at that age, but other beverages are, such as sports and fruit drinks, which are also high in sugar, Stanley said.
Conn recommends milk and water, and said even chocolate milk proves to be a dentally-wiser choice than juice.
Fluoride is the key, Conn continued, saying that the town of Boone adds fluoride to its water, though this isn’t the case out in the county, where well water is more common. In those cases, Conn recommends a fluoride supplement, which must be prescribed.
Fluoride, she explained, is incorporated with the enamel of developing teeth, strengthening them when they come through. It also kills cavity-causing bacteria.
Proper amounts of fluoride are key, however, as too much can be a health hazard.
“We’re into preventing,” Conn said. “We don’t want decay to start. If you listen to us, do what we say, 95 percent of cavities would be taken care of.”
During the awareness month, Conn and staff visit the Boone Mall and daycare programs at the library. They’ll visit the Boone Mall on Saturday, Feb. 11, and will distribute free T-shirts for kids, as well as toothbrushes.
They’ll place a display in the Watauga County Public Library for the month, and meet with daycare classes to teach kids about good dental habits.
“We try to promote a fun atmosphere for the whole month,” Conn said. As such, the office is holding a coloring contest with the theme, “A healthy smile is something to cheer.”
Kids can color and decorate a picture using their creativity and imagination, and entries will be judged on such. There are three categories for prizes, which include various gift certificates.
“We pretty much do what we try to do all year round, and that’s with good dental care and information,” Conn said. “We just try to get the word out more in February.”
For more information on Children’s Dental Hygiene Month, call your local dentist.