Not only is February Black History Month and American Heart Month, it’s also Children’s Dental Health Month. Dental health is an important component of a child’s overall well-being as children with poor oral health may develop coughs, colds, sore throats and upset stomachs more frequently, causing them to miss school.
“The mouth is the entrance to the body, both for children and for adults, so it should be looked after,” Joan E. Kowolik, director the pediatric clinic at the IU School of Dentistry, said. “It should be healthy. With children, it is especially important because if children don’t have teeth, they can’t speak properly. They can’t eat properly.”
She also said toothaches can cause children to lose sleep or even become loud and disruptive during class in response to the pain.
To promote dental health, Kowolik recommends starting good habits early. Parents should clean their baby’s teeth after every meal as soon as they have teeth to clean. They should start without toothpaste then add a pea-sized amount when the baby is two. Also consider occasionally swapping milk bottles for water because milk can leave sugar on the child’s teeth.
Good dental habits are important, but children also need to see a dentist every six months starting at 1 year old. If the child isn’t going to a pediatric dentist, there is no shame in asking if the dentist likes working with children and requesting a referral if he or she doesn’t.
Because many families cannot afford to see a dentist every six months, the IU School of Dentistry’s Pediatric Clinic offers rates that are 40 to 50 percent lower than other dentists. In addition, the school receives grants that allow it to subsidize costs for low-income families ineligible for Medicaid.
“The pediatric department here at the IU School of Dentistry is very underutilized and could be a very good safety net for a lot of the local children because there’s a lot of children very close to [this] school and their parents may or may not even know,” Andy Dalin, a third-year IU School of Dentistry student, said.
Dalin highlighted Give Kids A Smile, a national event organized by a group of dentists, including Dalin’s father, in 2002. Give Kids A Smile provides free dental care and education to children in a fun environment with activities such as face painting and making balloon animals.
Dalin has volunteered in Give Kids A Smile since he was a child and had such great memories that he became part of the effort to revive the event at IU School of Dentistry. Give Kids A Smile will be Feb. 16 and is free and open to the public.
Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.
Give Kids A Smile provides a free dental cleaning to children from ages 1 to 18 and a fun opportunity for children to learn about dental health. Those who need additional dental work will be scheduled for a follow-up.
When: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Feb. 16.
Where: Indiana University School of Dentistry, 1121 W. Michigan St.
Register: Reserve a spot by calling 317-274-6846 or emailing IUGKAS@iupui.edu.