Protecting young teeth increases school attendance later on

Did you know that dental problems are among the leading causes of school absenteeism, and that decay can start in the tiny teeth of babies and toddlers?

The Arizona Department of Health Services estimates that 30% of Arizona's 2- to 4-year-olds have untreated tooth decay and more than half of 3-year-olds have never seen a dentist. If not addressed, that decay can lead to failure to thrive, speech delays and trouble concentrating in school.

Every February, the American Dental Association (ADA) sponsors National Children's Dental Health Month to raise awareness about the importance of oral health. First Things First is doing its part by helping children access preventive oral health care and building awareness among parents of the importance of taking care of young teeth. In fiscal year 2013, 37,833 oral health screenings were completed on kids 5 and younger statewide to detect dental problems; and, 35,599 fluoride varnishes were applied to protect young children's teeth against dental decay.

As their child's first teachers, parents and other caregivers can take a few simple steps to keep young teeth healthy and prevent future problems. For babies, the Arizona Department of Health Services' Office of Oral Health recommends:

• Avoid passing germs by not sharing spoons or licking pacifiers.

• Keep the bottle out of the crib.

• Serve juice in a cup, not a bottle.

• Clean baby's mouth with a soft cloth or infant toothbrush.

• And, take your baby to the dentist by his or her first birthday.

For children 1 and older, the following recommendations are added:

• Limit sweets, snack foods and sweet drinks.

• Brush your child's teeth with a soft toothbrush twice a day.

• Look at your child's teeth and gums at least once a month. Healthy teeth should be all one color.

• Make sure your child drinks from a cup and focus on water with fluoride, milk, or small amounts of 100% fruit juice.

• And, give your child healthy meals and snacks.

In addition to these tips, teachers recommend bringing healthy snacks and drinks to the classroom during this month's Valentine's Day parties. Catrina Herbert, teacher at Tuba City Preschool, said, "Since participating in the oral health program, one of our parents brings in healthier foods like grapes and sugar free juices because she doesn't want her child to get cavities."

By following these steps, we can send our kids to school with healthy teeth and gums, prevent future absences, and promote their success in kindergarten and beyond!

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