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IHS Celebrates National Children's Dental Health Month

by Capt. Timothy L. Ricks, DMD, MPH, Acting Oral Health Promotion/Disease Consultant, Division of Oral Health, IHS

Each February, IHS, tribal and urban dental programs celebrate National Children's Dental Health Month (NCDHM). The American Dental Association held the first national observance of Children's Dental Health Day on February 8, 1949, and in 1981 it was extended to a month-long observance to show the importance of children's oral health.

The theme for the 2017 NCDHM is "Choose Tap Water for a Sparkling Smile." The ADA has developed posters and promotional materials Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving  that adopt this theme and encourage parents and children to avoid sugary drinks, which can cause cavities, and to drink tap water, which may contain cavity-fighting fluoride.

The program also encourages children to eat "healthy for a healthy smile" and to brush their teeth for two minutes twice daily - "2min2x!"

Despite the efforts of 320 individual dental programs and almost 500 individual IHS and tribal dental clinics, American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) children have less access to dental care than the general U.S. population. Not surprisingly, then, is that AI/AN children suffer more dental disease. For example, AI/AN preschool children ages 2-5 have four times more decayed or filled teeth than U.S. white children and more than double that of the next highest minority, U.S. Hispanic children.

In response, IHS and tribal dental programs all over the country are prioritizing children's dental health in February. Many programs will make special efforts to provide community-based services such as dental screenings, fluoride varnish applications, dental sealant applications, and oral health education in elementary and middle schools, Head Start centers, at health fairs and at other community events.

The IHS Division of Oral Health has created a series of educational presentations that can be shown in patient waiting rooms and at community events. These presentations, which are available to dental staff on the login-accessible IHS Dental Portal, will also be sent out through various e-mail distribution lists to all IHS, tribal, and urban dental programs. Presentations include:

  • Are you prepared for a dental emergency?
  • Will fluoride varnish help my teeth?
  • Dental Sealants
  • Sippy Cups
  • Teens and Oral Health

In addition, the IHS Division of Oral Health Continuing Dental Education Program will focus on children's health in February with four national webinars on early childhood caries, dental erosion in children's teeth, and overall management of pediatric dental patients. For more information on these continuing education opportunities, please send an e-mail to For more information on NCDHM, please go to Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving .

Capt. Timothy L. Ricks, DMD, MPH, Acting Oral Health Promotion/Disease Consultant, Division of Oral Health, IHS
Capt. Timothy Ricks, DMD, MPH, is the deputy director in the IHS Division of Oral Health and the IHS Continuing Dental Education Coordinator.