Children’s Dental Health Month in February: Does It Achieve Anything?
Children’s Dental Health Month in February: Does It Achieve Anything?
This second month of the year, the last of the winter ones comes from the Latin “februa”, which means to cleanse. It’s the month that from the Etruscans to the Romans was dedicated to Februus: god of the underworld, riches, and death.
Pluto, were it all just Greek.
This holy whole month of scrubbing skins and sins in the communal and social thermae (public baths) has the act of bathing seem a heady process of “rium” – apodyterium, tepdarium, caldarium, and frigidarium. Oil massages and scraping with a curved metal strigil meant nobody slipped on the soap, only the oil. And with that a little supercalifragilistic and a bit Potteresque, Google has a few rabbit holes in which you are invited.
As an ancient Roman you could always rest and recoup in the laconicum after the exhaustion of all that bathing every nine days. Torso bathing, really. Work dictated that arms and legs were washed every day, sometimes by a swim in the Tiber. When the practice of daily bathing eventually took hold, the Romans began building a balneum (a small bathhouse) in their homes after centuries of social bathing whereby 856 bathhouses could be found when roaming Rome in the 5th century BC.
Building and maintaining these thermae was a priority for Government officials and the wealthy, with the aim of having them as accessible and as appealing as possible in order to gain popularity. Those of influence would fund the waiving of fees for a period of time. The nominal entrance fee was always affordable – even with women having to pay twice as much as men just because. It’s been 2,000 years since that blatant inequity. Finally, after all that time we’ve arrived in a place where women are paid an average of 75% of a working man’s salary.
Progress. According to some.
The month-long Roman holiday of Februalia was for sacrifice, atonement and prayer – much like the anti-holiday of Festivus. Through the crazy of Latin, Februus could also connect with fevers and sweating – all part of the purgative processes of body, mind and spirit purification immersed in the magic of water.
It’s a belief we have continued to adhere to in some way since Hippocrates (460 BC-375 BC) thought it was a pretty good idea.
Hippocrates described the chemical and organoleptic properties of water, and noted the effects of hot and cold baths on the human body. His hypothesis was that all human disease starts with an imbalance of bodily fluids; the restoration of which demanded changes in habits and environment with treatment including walking, bathing, sweating and massages.
All of which seem to have stood the test of time.
Can the USA’s neo-global National Children’s Dental Month say the same?
From its humble one-day beginnings on February 3, 1941 in Cleveland, Ohio, fourteen years later with the help of the ADA, it became a national week-long event.
In 1981, amid the first Space Shuttle mission Columbia, the launch of Microsoft software MS DOS, the Delorean DMC-12 rollout, Mozart’s undiscovered symphony and the end of the Iranian hostage crisis, the American Dental Association thought it was time to double-down on doubling down, and National Children’s Dental Health Week became a month long…to say.
Fluoridated water is the love child of 1930’s Dr Henry Trendley Dean and the ADA, born in Great Rapids, Michigan. That it’s deemed the reason for a 60% reduction in cavities for children stays part of the acknowledgement and celebration of NCDHM.
To pique our interest every year, there is a theme with a poster and materials to download: competitions, a coloring page, crossword puzzle, word search and tooth brushing calendar which despite it’s description, doesn’t suggest it as a monthly event.
2023’s focus is “Brush, Floss, Smile” which is hopefully catchy for the kids because it’s a Festivus of Snooze otherwise. Having good oral health is far more exciting and risky than that. To a kid, teeth are permanent, and new and so unquestionably there for life. Exactly like your best friend.
As adults we know how that changes; as a kid you’re not supposed to. You’re supposed to have that unwavering faith and the inability to see it otherwise.
Which is why National Children’s Dental Health Month is for parents, not kids. It’s for parents and guardians and grandparents and aunts and uncles and old second cousins to take note. For adults with influence on children to take the time and renew their focus on the absolute priority oral health is. It designates, deems, affects and links to the parts of our body that help define who we are, and who we become: our gut and our brain.
From the mouths of babes comes food-related anguish sometimes. Sugar-feed cavities and high-carb gum inflammation. Hit-and-miss tooth brushing routine. That’s always lucky to be thirty-seconds; nowhere near the recommended 2-3 minutes.
And often conveniently forgotten before bed. After after-dinner ultra-processed food snacks, or ice cream, Doritos or candy.
Makes it hard for good stuff to go on in there when it’s fighting cavity-causing bacteria that fluoride helps make life a little difficult, but it’s no super power against instilling a poor hygiene routine. Superman can only pull on his undies so many times before the elastic goes. Dental’s expensive, yes: it’s less expensive when it’s routine. Because when it’s routine, it’s maintenance not repair. We know that that’s where the big bucks are.
So don’t do it to yourself and don’t do it to your kids by not realising until right now, the value of valuing your teeth. Each one is connected to a part of the brain, and areas of the body.
Betcha didn’t know that. Something amazing to tell a kid.
Fresh foods go in to achieve balanced nutrition, good sleep, good times, easier schooling and better energy. Fast foods go in to achieve an environment for even more fast food, sugar, sleeplessness, difficulty at school and more chance of joining the horrendous statistics of diabetes.
I reckon a kid’s more interested in knowing about that, than colouring in a toothbrush. Children like stories. “Brush, Floss, Smile” isn’t even a sentence. It may have a happy ending, but where’s the journey? The beginning’s brushed over with a bit of floss in the middle.
How’s that for something to remember and adventure to in the night-mind or daydream daze of a kid? It just isn’t. It isn’t something for a kid to think and follow and laugh about, and offer alternative endings.
Kids smile anyway. They don’t think about it – at all. It’s automatic. And humbling if they’ve gone down the road of laughing where adults fear to tread.
How does an annual, national campaign become so dull? Is it because no-one’s interested anymore, or has just squeezed the last of anything of interest?
At 82, is it taking its last bites?
It certainly shouldn’t be. It’s gums are healthy and its teeth intact and cavity-free. There has been the odd inflammation, but completely treatable in their early stages. There have been decades of regular check-ups; a not entirely faultless record, but at its worst once a year. They are teeth that have been gently and regularly cleaned thousands of times – a testament to the incredible construction of dental enamel. Probably eighty or so of those cleans have been professional, and they’ve been x-rayed a few times. The jawbone has suffered only the bone loss to be expected of an active octogenarian in good physical shape, rather than the extensive and shape-altering loss from missing teeth and bad dentures.
These are the stories of their future that kids want to know. Not “Brush, Floss, Smile”. They brush because parents make them. They brush properly because parents dedicate the tedious time to teach them that, and then more tedious time supervising.
Floss. No-one flosses, a kid probably can’t and without a junk food diet, brushing well would probably do the trick. Certainly your dentist can advise about that during that six-monthly check-up that maybe hasn’t happened for a while.
Smile? Try stopping a kid. You could bore them to death with the standard NCDHM campaign. Or you can just use it as a reminder to brush up on your dedication to a lifetime of good oral health for your children, any mistake you may feel you’ve made until is just floss, and smile at the courage it took to make it your own.
That’s the kinda story a kid wants to hear. How everything can be adapted to have the experience you want from it. No matter what’s presented, no matter what someone else thinks is great.
Great health is great. Great oral health is the thing that makes great health great. Without it, overall, your health can never be that great.
That’s a great narrative for a kid. Weave in the Roman baths, and an invisible yet traceable thread from each tooth to a body part. Knit into your yarn fit and friendly old folk, with clear annunciation, able to eat whatever they like, laughing and smiling because their teeth aren’t bolted into their jaw or making one curious clank in a cup each night. Tell ‘em about the Tiber ‘cause they’ll think you said “the tiger” so tell them about one of those that maybe talks.
Brush up on your spontaneous story-telling skills. Don’t waste them on your dentist. He has tales of the future straight from your child’s mouth.
Note: All content and media on the Sunbury Dental House website and social media channels are created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice.
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