As a mother, a few of the things that I worry about are my children's health, mind, body and soul. As mother of school aged children, I worry about their dental health even more. While I can monitor what they eat at home, I cannot do that while they're at school. Madison my now 5year old hates smiling and it's not because she doesn't have a beautiful smile, she thinks that everyone will see her capped tooth. Madison at age 4 had to get her back teeth capped because of cavities, and it's not due to lack of brushing. She's one of many children whose teeth are much more prone to cavities, and since she doesn't lose her molars until around age 12, it was recommended that her teeth be capped. So when I heard about Give Kids a Smile and what they have been doing to help other children I knew that I just wanted to share their story.
Now while I have a dental plan for me and my family, there are many families out there who do not. You may remember my story about us being in Europe and needing dental care. Dental emergencies can happen anywhere and at any time. However, besides dental emergencies, our children need to see the dentist every 6 months, it's part of good dental hygiene. There are many children out there who suffer with tooth decay despite the availability of Medicaid and improvements in the coverage of children’s dental care under the Affordable Care Act.
That should never be the case, and a group of dentists felt the same way and formed GKAS (Give Kids a Smile). They decided in 2002 to start a one day volunteer event in St. Louis, Missouri, where they all came together with a few other volunteers and offered free dental care to nearly 400 children in need who had cavities. They made such a big impact that The American Dental Association decided to launch a national program.
Since the program's 15 year journey, more than half a million volunteers in the dental field have given their time and talents to provide oral health services including education, screening, preventive care, and dental treatment to kids who might not have otherwise received them.
Now I remember when Madison had her teeth capped, someone asked why would I even do that? Why not just have let them remove her teeth. After all, they're baby teeth and she would lose them anyway, right? Well that's wrong. Cavities in baby teeth do matter and they can affect the permanent teeth which can lead to even more problems. It's always best to take care of cavities as soon as they appear.
Before I started reading up on GKAS, I had no idea that half of all children enter kindergarten with tooth decay. I was also not aware that children with untreated tooth decay have lower self esteem, are also more often absent from school and have difficulty paying attention in school. It finally made sense. Even Madison at age 5 was self conscious about her smile because of her capped tooth, she thought that others were looking at her and refused to smile.
So today I want to share 5 tips on how you can encourage good dental hygiene in your kids.
1. Brush Twice, Floss Once Daily
Encourage tooth brushing twice and floss once daily. The best way to do so is to do it with your child. They say the imitation is the best form of flattery and children love to imitate what they see adults do. Brush at the same time daily so that you build a routine with your child, so even if you're not around, your child will be encouraged to do so on their own. Also make sure they're brushing for at least 2 minutes.
2. Toothpaste and Toothbrush
Make it fun! There are lots of toothbrushes out there, have your child pick their own toothbrush and their own toothpaste. Make sure that their toothpaste contains fluoride. If your child doesn't like the taste of one particular toothpaste, try another. There's lots of different flavors out there. Make sure however that you also teach them how to spit out fluoride toothpaste since we don't want them swallowing it. Too much fluoride can leave brown spots on your child's teeth.
3. Teach Proper Brushing Technique
It's not how hard you brush, but how you brush. Teach your children to brush at least 2-3 minutes to get the most thorough cleaning. Gently brush back and forth, holding your toothbrush at a 45° angle. Brush the outer, inner and chewing surfaces of your teeth. To clean the insides of the teeth, brush in up and down strokes.
4. Eat Healthy Meals
Cut back on the sugary snacks and sodas. Focus on fresh fruits and veggies. Sugar is the main enemy and too much of it can cause cavities, especially if your child isn't brushing. Sticky sugary foods can linger on teeth and cause enamel breakdown. Make sure that your child brushes after eating sugary foods. If you're not able to brush, have some water on hand so you can rinse.
5. Dental Checkups
Have your children visit the dentist at least twice a year. Just like you have your children visit their pediatrician yearly for their well child visit, the dentist should also be seen. The dentist will make sure that your child's teeth, is developing normally and that there are no problems. If cavities are found, you will be given options of how to take care of them. As part of a dental checkup, fluoride may also be applied to provide protection against cavities if there are none.
GKAS just celebrated their 15 year anniversary and what started as a one day event has expanded to a series of more than 1,300 events in all 50 states, reaching more than 5.5 million children who could not have afforded dental care. Children who needed the services. They are also now the largest children’s oral health charitable program in the U.S.
How can you help?
Make sure that your kids follow the tips above and thank a dentist for volunteering to help kids in need, even if they haven't done so yet. Maybe that might be the incentive that they need, or maybe they just might not have heard of Give Kids A Smile and would join in.
If your child needs oral health care, visit ADAFoundation.org/GKAS and click “Find Dental Care for Your Child” for a list of resources. Or, call 1-844-490-GKAS (4527) to see if there is a GKAS program available in your area.
Here are the ways you can connect with Give Kids A Smile: