Healthy, clean teeth are an important part of children’s health. Children who look after their oral hygiene are more confident, smile more, and are less prone to oral infection and disease. The first Friday and Saturday of February, the Give Kids a Smile program sees thousands of dentists across the United States providing free dental services to underprivileged children. In this article, I’ll shine a spotlight on Give Kids a Smile Day and provide tips on promoting dental care for kids.
Give Kids a Smile Day
Since 2002, the Give Kids a Smile (GKAS) program has been providing free oral health care to underprivileged children throughout the United States. This service is offered on the first Friday and Saturday of February each year. It sees around 6,500 dentists and approximately 30,000 dental team members volunteer at local Give Kids a Smile events across the country. Over the two days, more than 300,000 children receive free oral health education, screening, and preventative and restorative treatment.
The Give Kids a Smile Day initiative was started by two St. Louis dentists, Jeff Dalin and B. Ray Storm. They opened the doors of a run-down dental clinic and provided free dental care to some 400 children over two days. The idea soon took off, and the following year a nationwide program was rolled out.
Give Kids a Smile events are being held across the country this year. To find the event nearest to you, call 1.844.490.GKAS. You can also organize your own GKAS event. A resource pack is available from the American Dental Association website.
Dental Care for Kids
Guiding our children to develop a good teeth brushing routine is the most important way for parents to encourage their kids’ dental care. You should buy a fluoride toothpaste as it will help prevent tooth decay. Choose a children’s brand of toothpaste that contains between 1,350 ppm and 1,500 ppm of fluoride. You should only put a dab of toothpaste on the brush.
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Parents should begin brushing their baby’s teeth as soon as the first milk teeth start coming through. This usually occurs at around six months. At that age, your baby will probably resist your efforts to clean their teeth, but it is important to persevere.
When you are teaching your child to brush their teeth, you should gently guide their hand so that they are able to learn the proper action. Place a mirror in front of the child so that she can see what is going on inside her mouth.
During these early stages of teeth brushing training, you should stamp out bad habits such as running around with the toothbrush in the child’s mouth.
Once your child is able to brush by themselves, you should still supervise the event. Brushing should take place twice daily for around two minutes each time — just before bedtime and one other time throughout the day.
Children between the ages of three and six should continue the habit of brushing their teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste. Parents should continue to supervise the process, ensuring that the child does not lick or eat toothpaste out of the tube. The child should also avoid spitting or rinsing after brushing as this will negate the effects of the fluoride in the toothpaste.
From the age of around seven, children should be able to brush their teeth independently. However, as a parent, you should still keep an eye on them to make sure they are brushing for a full two minutes. You may even choose to use a timer to help them achieve the two-minute brushing goal.
Teaching Your Child to Brush Their Teeth
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, forty-two percent of children in America between the ages of two and eleven have some form of tooth decay. By teaching your child to develop a brushing habit early on, you can lessen the likelihood of your child developing tooth decay. Here is a simple guide to teaching your child to brush:
- Hold the brush against the gumline at a forty-five-degree angle.
- Brush each tooth separately.
- Begin at the base of the tooth and brush up to the chewing surface.
- Use a short, sweeping action.
- Finish by brushing the roof of the mouth and the tongue, moving from back to front.
Teaching Your Child to Floss Their Teeth
Teeth flossing is another aspect of dental cleaning. Flossing removes food particles and bacterial plaque that has settled between the teeth. Children should begin flossing when the surfaces of their teeth get closer together. Flossing should take place once per day.
To train your child to floss their teeth, take a string of floss and twirl it around a finger of each hand. Position the floss around an individual tooth in a C-shape curve and begin to slide the string under the gumline and along the side of the tooth.
Use a different section of string for every tooth that you floss.
How to Choose Your Child’s First Toothbrush
Selecting your child’s first toothbrush is an important part of getting them excited about developing their brushing habit. Look for a child-sized brush that has soft bristles. Let your child pick their own toothbrush, showing them a selection of fun and exciting brushes. Try to find a brush that is themed in line with your child’s favorite movie or computer game character.
When it comes to the choice of a fluoride toothpaste, you should try to theme it with the brush. Go for a tasty flavor, but remember that you do not want your child to develop the habit of actually eating the toothpaste.
As a parent, you have the privilege and responsibility of helping your child develop healthy oral care habits. Give Kids a Smile Day, taking place on the first Friday and Saturday of February, is a fantastic boost in that regard. Be sure to find a GKAS event in your area and take your kid along for a free check-up.
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