The minds and bodies of young children develop rapidly, making it necessary to embrace positive practices and fill both with healthy things. Little ones need heaps of sleep, plenty of exercise, their fair share of fruits and veggies, loads of beneficial stimulation, and lots of love as they grow. According to the American Dental Association, the same holds true for their growing grins. Developing good oral health habits early gives children a great start to a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.
Why Dental Care is Particularly Critical for Children in Foster Care
Unfortunately, the American Academy of Pediatrics indicates that roughly 35% of children and teens in foster care enter the system with significant oral health issues. They may arrive on the doorstep of their new foster parents’ home with bottle tooth decay in the youngest children and multiple cavities and/or malocclusion (aka “bad bite”) in older children. At Operation Shiny Teeth, it’s our mission to change those statistics.
What Operation Shiny Teeth is Doing to Move the Needle
One of the most important ways we do that is by collecting toothpaste and toothbrushes for children in the foster care system. Another way is by educating everyone and anyone who will listen about the importance of ensuring good oral health for these young ones and giving them back the smile they thought they’d lost. Whether you are a foster parent or have a few kiddos of your own, Operation Shiny Teeth encourages you to “Make ‘Em GRIN” every day.
G Stands for GO
One of the most important ways to protect the oral health of little ones is to GO to the dentist two times a year. Between x-rays and exams from a pediatric dentist, you’ll be able to assess potential issues and take precautions to avoid them – like the placement of pediatric sealants or fillings. A thorough cleaning and tips from the dental hygienist will also go a long way in supporting your efforts at home.
R Stands for Regimen
Aristotle is credited with the saying, “Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.” As a parent or foster parent, it’s critical to establish a regimen for the children in your care. When it comes to oral health, create a daily routine that involves brushing twice a day for at least two minutes at a time with fluoride toothpaste and flossing at least once daily. After breakfast and just before bed are great times to schedule brushings. They can floss before one of these brushings, but to make it a habit, try to encourage them to floss at the same time every day.
I Stands for Instruments
As with any important undertaking, the success of developing an effective oral healthcare regimen for young children relies heavily on the use of the right tools. Fluoride toothpaste and age-appropriate toothbrushes approved by the American Dental Association are your first line of defense against tooth decay. Floss is another must-have tool. Bear in mind that handheld, single-use flossers are often easier for little hands to manipulate. For the youngest ones, you may have to help them floss. Kids should start flossing when they have two or more teeth that touch – which is typically around age 2 or 3. For children younger than 2, it’s important to consult first with your doctor or dentist regarding the use of fluoride toothpaste.
N Stands for Nutrition
Another vital way to protect your child’s smile is by limiting sugar intake and encouraging good nutrition. Candy, sugary juices, and sodas can wreak havoc on tiny teeth. If you allow them to indulge on occasion, develop a practice of having a toothbrush and toothpaste on hand so they can brush within 30 minutes of ingesting that sweet treat. As for foods that support good oral health, WebMD suggests you stock your fridge and pantry with the following:
- Water – especially fluoridated water – is your best bet for beverages
- Aged Cheeses like Cheddar, Monterey Jack, and Swiss – calcium helps remineralize teeth
- Chicken – high in phosphorus, it also helps remineralize teeth
- Broccoli and Spinach – high in calcium, they help remineralize teeth
- Nuts – their crunch can help remove plaque, and their mineral makeup can strengthen enamel
- Crunchy Fruits and Veggies – their crunch can help remove plaque, and their high water content dilutes the effects of any natural sugars they contain. Some suggestions include apples, pears, celery, and cucumbers.
Learn how you can help Operation Shiny Teeth protect the oral health of children in foster care by hosting a toothbrush and toothpaste donation drive, holding a packing party, or making a monetary contribution to our nonprofit at OperationShinyTeeth.org.