Melissa is a mother of 2, lives in Utah, and writes for a multitude of sites. She is currently the EIC of HarcourtHealth.com and writes about health, wellness, and business topics.

Every February, the American Dental Association (ADA) celebrates National Children’s Dental Health Month. Now on its 76th year, it aims to create awareness and provide information on how good oral health can benefit children and those who care for them. The event is featured on posters, coloring and essay contests, free dental checkups, group presentations, and public exhibits. Dentists, like Dr. Cesar Sabates, chairman of ADA Council that oversaw the event in 2016, hopes that the said event will educate people into appreciating oral health care and to become more conscious of how it affects the body’s overall well being.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that dental caries is common in children aged 6 to 11 and teenagers aged 12 to 16. What’s alarming is that it’s four times more common than asthma in teens aged 14 to 17. Volunteers, like Shirley Walsh, member of the Alliance of the American Dental Association, distributes materials to local libraries and schools and gets people talking.

To celebrate National Children’s Dental Health Month in your home, here are some ideas that should get the message across and with a lasting impact on children.

1. Visit your dentist. Now is the best time to set an appointment to visit your family dentist. It’s not just to check on your child’s pearly whites, but to get those forming plaque removed. Ideally, this should happen twice yearly. If you get it cleaned this February, you can have them back in August just in time before school starts. Besides, the more often your child sees their dentist, the more at ease they’d be when they see the latter again.

2. Stock up on dental products. Your child might not want to have their favourite toothbrush replaced but those frayed bristles don’t do the job anymore. Toothbrushes should be replaced quarterly or as soon as the bristles get worn out of shape. Choose one that is soft-bristled and allows the user to reach all areas of the mouth easily. Buy the floss that they like to use but keep basic ones just in case they run out. Choose toothpastes that contain the right amount of fluoride recommended by the ADA.

3. Assess their technique. No matter how old your child may be, now is the right time to check on how they actually brush their teeth. Watch how long they brush and what techniques they miss when brushing their teeth. Did they remember to floss? The toothbrush should be at a 45° angle to the gums. It should move gently as it cleans the outer, inner, and chewing surfaces of the teeth for two minutes. Flossing should be done gently in a zigzag motion to clean the gaps between the teeth. Make sure they unroll a fresh section of floss as they move from one tooth to another.

4. Create a rewards system. Offer incentives every time they get their brushing and flossing right. Put up a chart near the sink where they usually brush their teeth. Have them tick each step they did correctly and if they do it consistently, they get to choose a treat they want – a nice book, a day trip or a toy. Try to extend this beyond February until it becomes a habit. Have reminders and motivators aplenty so they set their eyes on the objective. Encourage them to make their own posters and reminders to unleash their creativity while inculcating the message of keeping their oral cavity clean and functional.

5. Promote dental cavity awareness. Sometimes, children may not be aware of why adults worry about their brushing and flossing. Focus on plaque, which may be invisible to the naked eye. Use a plaque – disclosing product to expose where it lurks. This is usually applied after the mouth is thoroughly rinsed with water. The harmless dye reacts with plaque and displays where they might have missed. Challenge your child to brush and floss the plaque away. Alternatively, you can have them watch videos online how plaque, when left unattended, can worsen into dental problems that might require serious intervention.

6. Check your pantry. Good dental habits in children need not only be celebrated in February. Food plays an important part in children’s dental health. Have you looked into your pantry lately? Whole foods rich in calcium, fibre, and phosphate improves the teeth’s resistance to dental caries. Offer meals that have ample amounts of protein, iron, and collagen for gum health. Remove fizzy and sweet drinks from the fridge and replace them with plain water. Discourage treats that are sweet and sticky, even if they’re fruit based. Anything that has sugar or carbohydrates is a potential breeding ground for dental caries.

7. Attend local event. The ADA hosts the National Children’s Dental Health Month. The association posts events near your area that promotes their theme. This year’s theme is focused on consuming water from the tap. Events are often sponsored by local chapters. Free dental checkups are offered along with free samples of kid friendly toothpastes and toothbrushes. Some establishments organise exhibits or seminars on dental products and services relevant to children’s dental health such as dental sealants, mouthguards, or dental braces. Schools sometimes hold essay and art contests to send the message across kids by kids. Dentists often give away posters and activity sheets to their young patients, which is why it’s a good idea to drop by and have a check-up.

The National Children’s Dental Health Month has come a long way in promoting oral health care in the young and even the young at heart. The simple one day event in Cleveland, Ohio in 1941 has now become a month long celebration of a message that never wavered despite it’s annual themes: that children’s dental health should be a priority of everybody.