Honoring Children's Dental Health Month
On February 1, 1950, then President Harry S. Truman proclaimed February 6 as National Children’s Dental Health Day. He declared that “the health of our children is of supreme importance to the future of the nation,” referencing the United States Congress’s joint resolution encouraging him to:
invite all agencies and organizations interested in child welfare to [unite] upon that day in the observance of such exercises as will call to the attention of the people of the United States the fundamental necessity of a continuous program for the protection and development of the dental health of the nation’s children.
Seventy-one years later, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz continued the tradition of honoring February as Children’s Dental Health Month, declaring that “Bringing awareness to the importance of oral health and establishing good habits at an early age can help set up Minnesota children for a lifetime of smiles.”
To Teresa Fong, DDS, who’s been an adjunct professor of pediatric dentistry for over 30 years and worked in private practice until 2019, the celebration is welcome.
“We’re grateful that the governor recognizes how important children’s dental health is,” she said.
The month is an opportunity for the pediatrics team at the School of Dentistry and pediatricians throughout the U.S. to share the importance of childhood oral health care and empower parents and children to take it seriously.
“Good habits start early, and bad habits start early, too,” she said. A focus on Children's Dental Health Month can help kids and parents understand how simple practices such as brushing two times a day, flossing, and paying closer attention to the things we eat and drink can prevent dental decay and set kids up for a lifetime of good oral health.
It’s also an opportunity to create partnerships and foster long-term relationships, Fong said. “It’s not about meeting one need, one time, but working on connecting a child with a dental home.”
Working with those children is one of Fong’s favorite parts of her job. From getting a young child to show off their special talents like dancing in the clinic, to empowering kids to have the confidence to smile and show off their healthy mouths, “pediatric dentistry is my passion,” she said.
Fong honors Children's Dental Health Month each February by serving in clinics where free care is provided, partnering with the Minnesota Dental Association, and helping parents understand how they can encourage good dental hygiene for their children.
At the School of Dentistry, she participates in the student-run Give Kids a Smile event each February; though COVID-19 forced a cancellation of the event this year, Fong hopes parents, children, and community members will still take part in the virtual resources and opportunities put together by students this year.
And the work of children’s dental health is a full-time commitment for the School of Dentistry, Fong knows. “Children’s Dental Health Month goes on all year long in our school,” she said.
That includes the school’s two pediatric dental clinics, in Moos Tower and the University of Minnesota Pediatric Dental Clinic, Made Possible by Delta Dental of Minnesota. They serve patients five days a week and are available as a dental home for children. The school’s faculty engage in advocacy work to address matters of equity in children’s care, while the latter clinic administers particular care for children with special needs like autism, for whom a trip to the dentist might be uncomfortable or frightening.
Fong takes pride in her work, in February and throughout the year--and she’s grateful for the attention that Children’s Dental Health Month brings to it.
“Kids can get overlooked,” she said. “We’re thankful that the governor has an official proclamation regarding the importance of oral health for kids. We want to help kids start good habits early, and it’s great to be able to focus on kids.”