First Things First Blog: Protect kids teeth; Prevent school absences

Oral health screenings are conducted on a regular basis at Leupp Public School by dental hygienist Ellen Grabarek.

Oral health screenings are conducted on a regular basis at Leupp Public School by dental hygienist Ellen Grabarek.

Did you know that tooth decay is among the most common health issues affecting young children, and that dental disease is one of the leading causes of school absence?

The Arizona Department of Health Services estimates that almost half of the children in kindergarten have some decay experience, and about one-third have untreated decay. Nearly one in 10 is in need of urgent dental treatment.

Principal Ryan Chee of Leupp Public School has seen firsthand how taking care of a child's teeth when they are young can prevent school absences later. "There are less children being taken out of school for dental reasons; and, being present in the classroom is critical to academic success." That's why he invited Navajo County Public Health to conduct teeth screenings and fluoride varnishes at his school for preschoolers and kindergartners ages five years and younger. October was the third visit to the school in 2014 for Doris Clark, oral health educator, and Ellen Grabarek, dental hygienist.

You don't have to be a school principal or dental hygienist to promote good oral health practices. With Halloween just around the corner, we all have the opportunity to prevent tooth decay in young kids.

For starters, we can give out something other than candy to trick-or-treaters who come to our door. Ideas for non-candy treats include: temporary tattoos; mini-card games; fake jewelry, like spider rings and bracelets; play-dough; stamps; or, mini-packs of crayons or colored pencils.

If you do pass out candy, avoid hard candy and chewy treats, which stick to teeth longer, like caramels, gummy bears, taffy, etc. Plain chocolate is best, since it washes away faster than anything else.

Halloween also offers the chance to remind parents about the importance of caring for their infant or toddlers' teeth. Some good general guidelines include:

• Clean teeth every day. For infants, you can use a washcloth or infant tooth brush.

• Make sure your child sees a dentist by age 1 and every year thereafter.

• Give children healthy snacks, such as fruits, vegetables and nuts, instead of candy.

• Limit sugary drinks, including too much fruit juice, and only allow milk or water in bottles.

First Things First is doing its part by funding preventive oral health services, like teeth screenings and fluoride varnishes, on Navajo Nation.

As you are putting up decorations and buying treats this Halloween, use the tips above to help ensure that kids arrive at school healthy - smiling - and ready to succeed!

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