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How Head Start promotes early dental health

A child’s smile is one of the most precious things in the world. It reflects their happiness, their innocence, and their wellbeing.  


A young girl shows off her smile for the camera.

As parents and caregivers, ensuring that our children have healthy teeth and gums is crucial, not just for their smile, but also their overall health and development. This is especially true for children in their early years, from ages 0 to five, when dental care can have a significant impact on their future oral health. 


Fortunately, programs like Step Forward’s Head Start are stepping up to provide essential dental care to young children at no cost to families.  


The early years of a child’s life are a critical time for dental development. Baby teeth play a crucial role in a child’s ability to eat, speak, and maintain proper alignment for their permanent teeth. Neglecting dental health during a person’s early years can lead to a variety of issues, including cavities, gum disease, and developmental problems with their adult teeth. 


“Early dental care sets the foundation for lifelong oral health habits,” Daena Gamble, Step Forward’s Head Start Health and Dental Coordinator, explained. “By teaching children the importance of brushing, flossing, and attending regular dental checkups from an early age, we can help them develop good habits that will last a lifetime.” 


A young girl brushes her teeth.

Each morning, after breakfast, Head Start students have an opportunity to brush their teeth in the classroom. They are provided a toothbrush and they are shown how to properly brush for an appropriate amount of time. This practice not only promotes good oral hygiene, but also instills healthy habits at an early age. By making tooth brushing a regular part of their day, children learn the importance of taking care of their teeth from a young age.  


For families facing financial constraints, accessing quality dental care for their children can be challenging. Head Start provides comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families. Through partnerships with organizations like Case Dental, Head Start is able to offer dental care to enrolled children at no cost to their families. This removes barriers to access and ensures that all children, regardless of their family’s financial situation, can receive the dental care they need to thrive. 


Case Dental’s partnership with Head Start is a shining example of how public-private partnerships can make a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of our community’s youngest members.  


A child shows off how to brush their teeth during an exam.

“Their commitment to visiting each of our Head Start sites every academic year and their dedication to providing a comfortable and educational experience for each child is commendable. This proactive approach to dental care ensures that our children receive the best possible care,” Gamble said.  


Parents can establish healthy dental practices at home, too.  


  • Start early: begin clearing your baby’s gums with a soft cloth or infant toothbrush even before the first tooth appears. This helps to remove bacteria and establish good oral hygiene habits. 


  • Brush and floss regularly: Once your child’s teeth start coming in, brush them twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Use a small, pea-sized amount for children under the age of three and supervise brushing to ensure they do not swallow the toothpaste. Flossing should begin when adjacent teeth touch. 


  • Make it fun: Turn tooth brushing and flossing into a fun activity by using a colorful toothbrush, playing their favorite song while they brush, or letting them pick out their toothpaste flavor. 


  • Lead by example: Children learn by watching their parents, so be a good role model for them by practice good oral hygiene yourself. 


  • Visit the dentist regularly: Schedule regular dental checkups for your child, starting around their first birthday or when their first tooth appears. Early dental visits help to monitor their oral development and catch any issues early.  

 

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