Each February, since 1981, National Children's Dental Health Month is celebrated across the country. NCDHM messages reach thousands, and many dental offices observe the month by providing health fairs, free dental screenings, classroom presentations, dental office tours and free or low-cost preventive services to children.
The Indian Health Service Division of Oral Health has observed NCDHM for over two decades by providing awareness of key issues affecting American Indian and Alaska Native children and encouraging IHS, tribal, and urban dental programs to prioritize preventive services for children and youth throughout the month.
Over the last three years, IHS, tribal, and urban dental programs across Indian Country have also participated in Give Kids A Smile , an American Dental Association Foundation campaign that has provided underserved children with free oral health care since 2003. We have held 295 GKAS events over those three years, benefitting more than 44,000 American Indian and Alaska Native children.
In 2022, DOH promoted both preventive care and integrated care with the following weekly messaging to dental programs across the country:
- Dental sealants (clear or white coatings on back teeth) are effective in preventing tooth decay, even in very young children. Glass ionomer sealants can be used in very young children where moisture control cannot be obtained.
- Oral health and overall health are interrelated and you cannot be healthy without good oral health. Screen children in the dental office to also make sure they’re up to date on all vaccinations. This message should be continued in 2023, as dental health professionals have a role in the IHS E3 Vaccine Strategy: Every patient at every encounter will be offered every recommended vaccine when appropriate.
- Fluoride is a safe and effective way at preventing tooth decay. You can get it in toothpaste or most drinking water, or you can get it at your dentist’s or physician’s office. Children at high risk should receive topically-applied fluoride varnish 3-4 times per year.
- Two of the best ways to avoid oral (mouth) cancer are to avoid the use of tobacco products and get vaccinated against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) starting at age 9, ideally at ages 11-12.
For National Children’s Dental Health Month in 2023, DOH will once again stress the importance of preventing disease with these weekly messages:
- Oral cancer is the most common cancer from HPV, and dental health professionals can educate parents of pre-teens and teens about the importance of the HPV vaccination in preventing this type of cancer.
- Sugar sweetened beverages pose one of the single biggest threats to both dental disease and obesity, and many of these beverages may seem to be healthy, such as orange juice and apple juice.
- General dentists can effectively treat very young children through special techniques like the "knee to knee" examination method. Parents should be encouraged by all members of the health care team to schedule their child for a dental examination as soon as the first tooth erupts – "first tooth, first exam."
- Dental health professionals should employ the IHS caries risk model to prioritize preventive and early intervention care to children and youth deemed at high risk for developing decay.
Please join us in celebrating National Children's Dental Health Month, and I encourage you to learn more about current initiatives of the IHS Division of Oral Health on our website.Related Content: