Poor oral health causes pain and infections that make it difficult for kids to eat, sleep, and learn. Dental hygienists can help.
Poor oral health is no laughing matter. The World Health Organization (WHO) Global Oral Health Status Report (2022) estimated that oral diseases affect close to 3.5 billion people worldwide, causing pain, discomfort, disfigurement, and even death.
“Oral health is definitely linked to overall health,” says Donna Wells, Manager of Professional Practice with the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association (CDHA). “Research shows that there is a connection between poor oral health and serious conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Any steps we can take to reduce inflammation in our mouths will help to limit inflammation in the rest of the body.”
Oral disease doesn’t only impact adults. “We need to treat oral conditions at the youngest age, as poor oral health causes pain that prevents kids from eating properly, disrupts their sleep patterns, and makes it harder for them to concentrate at school. The social stigma of bad breath, tooth loss, and speech difficulties stemming from poor oral health can also be overwhelming for kids,” says Wells.
Simple solutions to keep everyone smiling
Starting young sets the foundation for good, life-long oral hygiene. “We want parents and kids to understand the importance of good oral hygiene habits from an early age so that they can keep their teeth for their whole life,” says Wells.
To this end, CDHA has a set of oral care instructions for three different age milestones—from birth to age three, from ages three to six, and from ages 7 to 12—on its Dental Hygiene Canada website.
Right from the start, parents should be looking after their infant’s gums, even before teeth start to appear. “Parents often don’t realize that a bottle of breast milk or formula causes acid in the mouth,” says Wells. “Baby’s gums should be gently wiped with a clean, moist cloth to keep them healthy. Teeth generally start to come in at around six months, so then a soft brush should be used. At night, bottles should be filled with water and nothing else.”
It’s recommended that an appointment with a dental hygienist be made within a baby’s first six months or when the first tooth appears. As preventive care specialists, dental hygienists can be a good resource for parents wanting to know the dos and don’ts of good oral care for their child. “A dental hygienist will teach you and your child how to brush their teeth and take care of their gums, and discuss how nutrition can affect their oral health. Those first few appointments also act to reduce fear of the dental chair,” says Wells.
We want parents and kids to understand the importance of good oral hygiene habits from an early age so that they can keep their teeth for their whole life.
What to do as kids get older
Between the ages of three and six, parents should still brush their child’s teeth. “Children don’t have the dexterity at this age to do it on their own,” says Wells, “so parents should let them brush first to learn how to do it, but then finish off by brushing for them.”
As kids hit the 7-to-12-years-old age group, they’re gaining independence and can brush on their own. Now comes the time to teach them the two-minute toothbrushing rule, twice per day. Wells offers this tip: “Getting a two-minute timer for your child works well. Perhaps it’s a song on your phone that they can listen to or an egg timer.”
Good oral health shouldn’t be a luxury
Oral health care can be expensive, and if a parent or caregiver doesn’t have private dental insurance or if their child is not fully covered under a government-funded dental program, kids often lose out when it comes to having a healthy mouth. Because oral health care is so important, the Government of Canada introduced the interim Canada Dental Benefit in late 2022. It’s intended to help lower oral health care costs for eligible families — those that earn less than $90,000 per year with kids under the age of 12.
“The Canada Dental Benefit can be used for any oral health care expense,” says Wells. “Cleanings with a dental hygienist and fillings with a dentist, yes, but it can also be used to pay for therapy for thumb sucking, mouth breathing or a sports mouthguard.”
Learn more about children’s oral health and the Canada Dental Benefit plan.
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