I sometimes cringe when I witness the power that putting Disney Princesses on pink and purple toothbrushes has on increasing the likelihood that girls will happily engage in the ever-so-healthy habit of brushing their teeth. To be fair, let me also say that I’m sure I’d be equally impressed by Transformers or Cars or Spiderman or any other enticing children’s toothbrushes that predictably coax boys into opening wide and brushing. That said, I’m going to save my concerns about of the influence of today’s societal “norms” on children and gender stereotyping for another day in order to focus on the very important topic of the month: children’s oral health.
It seems a bit superficial to start out by admitting that I do, in fact, love Princess toothbrushes. Not that I use one personally, of course, but rather I love that they have a way of getting even the feistiest and most willful of four, three, and even two-year-old girls to proudly tell me just how excited they are to own and use one (or two or even three) of these agents of change.
That’s right, I am hoping to convince you (in hopefully 800 words or less) that what may seem like a cute little toothbrush is actually much more than what it may seem. Especially in combination with a few other crucial factors (such as toothpaste, fluoride, and dental sealants), toothbrushes really can serve as powerful agents of change.
I am aware that for many of us, getting our kids to brush their teeth is something we know we should do and therefore commit to implementing from very early on in our parenting careers. Based on the number of questions I’m asked, I’m pretty sure a majority of us have also had to cope with babies’ erupting teeth, searched for ways to get toddlers to open their mouths, and/or struggled to get tweens and teens to take us seriously when we remind them to brush their teeth. All their teeth. With toothpaste. Not every so often, but every day.
So each February, when Children’s Dental Health Month rolls around, I’m happy. Happy because I am painfully aware of how difficult it can be to draw much-needed attention to the importance of children’s oral health – especially as a topic of key national importance. If setting up a campaign and dedicating a month to this worthy cause is what it takes, I’m all for it.
If this month serves as a useful reminder for all of you to brush up on tips for taking care of teeth – from baby’s to teen’s and everyone in between – then we’re off to a good start. It’s also a good time to double check your calendar and make sure your children (starting at the age of one!) are scheduled to get dental check-ups every six months.
But I also hope February’s increased focus on children’s oral health gives you an even healthier appreciation for just how much impact oral health – or the lack thereof – can have on children’s overall health, self-image, and well-being. Cavities and tooth decay (or “dental caries”) are actually considered a chronic disease. And not just any chronic disease, but one that affects more children in the U.S. than any other (five times more than asthma!) and is projected to afflict fifty percent of all children entering kindergarten this year. When left untreated, tooth decay has the very real potential to cause pain, infections, and subsequent difficulty playing, eating, speaking and learning. In fact, it is estimated that children miss nearly 51 million school hours each year because of dental-related illnesses alone. That’s not even to mention the social importance of a smile and just how damaging tooth decay can be to one’s self-esteem.
So I’m willing to admit that making the leap from Princess toothbrushes to this serious of a topic is a big one. But the fact of the matter is that I couldn’t agree more with Jeff Sheldon (a Community Health Educator in the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Office of Oral Health and Dentistry) and Nebraska’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joanne Schaefer that taking care of our children’s teeth is an under-emphasized health priority in Nebraska. I’m fairly certain that Rick Ruggles’ recent article entitled Children walk out with smiles put a smile on their faces like it did mine as he described Creighton Dental School’s Give Kids a Smile event earlier this month. I just hope that everyone remembers that oral health is important every day of every month – for your children, and for all children. If we want to invest in our kids, let’s be sure to invest in their smiles too.
For more information on children’s oral health, you can go to:
- The CDC’s Children’s Oral Health website
- The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s Parent Resource Center
- Melvin the Magnificent Molar – Fun reading and practical tips for tooth brushing success in this children’s book I co-authored with Julia Cook
- The Nebraska Office of Oral Health and Dentistry
- The National Children’s Oral Health Foundation
Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska