Tiffany Western and her five children could be the poster family for a local children’s oral health program. There’s no struggling or bribing to get these kids to brush their teeth every day or to hop into the dentist chair twice a year.
Instead, the Heber mom says her kids – who range in age from 1 all the way up to fifth grade – are actually “excited about caring for their teeth.”
Western credits the positive attitude to a local oral health program funded by First Things First. Beginning as babies, the Heber mom’s three youngest children followed in the footsteps of their two older siblings to receive free dental screenings and fluoride treatments regularly. The program is available to children birth to age 5 in the FTF Navajo/Apache Region in northeastern Arizona.
“Three of my children had cavities early on that we never would have known about had it not been for the screenings,” Western said. “And, the fluoride treatments are essential to good oral health at an early age.”
Good oral health in young children plays a critical role in a child’s overall wellbeing and education. Parents and caregivers are the first defense in helping prevent tooth decay in Arizona’s youngest children.
That message is replayed over and over in February during National Children’s Dental Health month, which promotes the benefits of good oral health. Left untreated, tooth decay in young children’s primary teeth puts them at risk for future problems like damaged permanent teeth and increased vulnerability to infections in other parts of the body. Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease faced by young children, but it also 100 percent preventable.
Western said getting her children’s teeth screened as infants or toddlers helped diminish any fear or anxiety of going to the dentist as they got older.
“I’m so grateful to Robin House (oral health educator for Navajo County Public Health) and all the people who administer the program,” said Western, who lives in Heber. “They taught my kids to be excited about caring for their teeth.”
Children in the program also receive toothbrushes, toothpaste, a brushing timer and a dental-themed coloring sheet.
One big side benefit of the program?
“I don’t have to fight with them to get them to brush their teeth,” Western said.
FTF offers these tips for families of babies, toddlers and preschoolers:
- Clean your child’s teeth: When your baby’s first teeth come in, brush them after each feeding, especially before bedtime. Use a soft toothbrush and a rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. When your child turns 3, you can use a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste.
- Prevent baby bottle decay: Don’t put your baby to bed with a bottle at night or at nap time. The sugar in milk, formula, juices and soda can cause tooth decay. Beginning at 6 months, give your child water to drink to help keep their mouth clean and healthy.
- Serve healthy food and snacks: Sugary and sticky foods cause tooth decay, so give your child fruits, vegetables or cheese instead.
- Take your child to the dentist: By baby’s first tooth or first birthday, take them to the dentist to check that their mouth, gums and teeth are healthy