Mountain Family column: Brush up on dental health in February |

Mountain Family column: Brush up on dental health in February

Carolyn Hardin
Carolyn Hardin
Jackson Hardin |

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, so it is a great time to make sure children know how to take care of their teeth and mouth, as good oral health is critical to their development and ability to succeed in school.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says dental caries (cavities) is the No. 1 chronic disease affecting children. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s National Call to Action to Promote Oral Health in America:

More than 50 percent of children ages 5-9 have at least one cavity or filling, and this increases to 78 percent among 17-year-olds.

The social impacts of oral diseases in children are substantial. More than 51 million school hours are lost each year to dental-related illness. Pain and suffering due to untreated diseases can lead to problems in eating, speaking and attending to learning

Poverty and under- and uninsurance are strong predictors of inadequate dental care.

Good oral health is not difficult to attain. The keys are brushing, flossing, limiting sugary foods and drinks, having a dentist and getting regular dental care.

Dentists recommend both children and adults brush and floss every day, at least morning and night, or after every meal. This removes food debris and the bacteria which cause cavities. Parents need to teach their children how to brush, and help them until they can do it correctly themselves.

Choose water to drink instead of sugary beverages like soda and juice.

Babies should never be put to bed with a bottle. Graduate to regular cups instead of sippy ones.

Limit consumption of sugary foods like candy and cookies, and if you do eat them, do so with meals.

Choose a “dental home” for regular dental cleanings, exams and treatment. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends taking babies to the dentist by age 1, to make sure the teeth are coming in healthily and learn how to care for them. See your dentist right away for dental pain or injuries to the teeth or mouth.

Many families in this region do not go to the dentist because of the cost. Dental care can be expensive, particularly without dental insurance. However, there are ways to obtain affordable dental care in our region, and there resources available to help.

Colorado’s Medicaid program, now called Health First, includes dental care for children and limited dental care for adults. If your family is low-income and you might be eligible for Health First, contact your local human services department, or the Connect for Health outreach and enrollment specialists at Mountain Family Health Centers at 970-945-2840. A few private dentists in the region accept Medicaid and Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+) for dental care for children; you can find them by contacting your local public health department.

Mountain Family Health Centers provides affordable dental care to children and families enrolled in Medicaid, and offers a sliding fee scale discount to those who do not have Medicaid or insurance. Mountain Family is also launching two new programs to increase access to dental care next month.

A new dental clinic, the Mountain Family Health Centers Dental Van, will open March 10, at the Eagle County Community Building in El Jebel. It will provide most services and simple procedures, but those in need of more extensive dental treatment will be referred to another dentist or specialist. For an appointment call 970-945-2840.

The SMILES program, launching later this month, will provide students at Bea Underwood Elementary, Grand Valley Learning Center and Avon Elementary with preventive dental care at school. In SMILES, dental hygienists provide education, cleanings and exams and develop a treatment plan with the “hub” dentist via telehealth. The hygienist can place interim therapeutic restorations in small cavities, and complex cases are referred to the dentist. For more information on the Dental Van or SMILES, visit

The Aspen to Parachute Dental Health Alliance is another program working to increase access to dental care in the region, with several programs serving preschoolers through seniors. For more information visit

Here’s to healthy teeth in February and for a lifetime.

Carolyn Hardin is a development consultant for Mountain Family and other nonprofits, with 30 years of experience in public health and human services in the Roaring Fork Valley. She can be reached at

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