Five Conversations for Fathers to Have with Their Children About Oral Health

Posted on June 13, 2016 in Children’s Oral Health

Hey dads: how often do you talk about healthy behaviors with your child? June is Men's Health Month, and with Father's Day right around the corner, it's time you pass on some fatherly wisdom about oral health habits. Start these five conversations about oral health with your child this month, and know that you could be making a real impact on his lifelong health.

The importance of dental care

Start teaching your child about good oral health by setting a good example. Men are more likely to neglect their oral health than women, making men more susceptible to oral health problems. In fact, according to Delta Dental of Illinois' 2016 Adults Oral Health and Well-Being Survey, only 53 percent of Illinois men see their dentist twice or more per year, the recommended amount. Thirty percent of Illinois men say they miss brushing three to six times per month. Delta Dental of Illinois' survey also found that nearly a quarter of employed Illinois men missed work last year due to issues with their oral health, and 23 percent of Illinois children ages 6 to 12 missed school due to an oral health problem. You can help change these statistics by adopting good oral health habits yourself.

Talk to your child about the importance of good oral health habits. Let your child know that regular dental cleanings and exams, along with daily flossing and twice-daily brushing, are key to maintaining a healthy smile. When you or your child skip dental appointments or daily brushing and flossing, minor dental problems can become serious and require more substantial and expensive treatment in the future.

Don't stop at talking to your child about these oral health issues. Set a good example by improving your own oral health routine. Twenty-seven percent of Illinois men want to be more committed to taking care of their teeth, gums and mouth in the coming year than they have been in the past. Will you be one of them?

The risk of oral cancer

According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, men are more than twice as likely as women to develop malignant oral cancer. Oral cancer survival rates are significantly better for people whose cancer is detected early. With early treatment, the five-year survival rate rises from 50 percent to 80 percent.

This is yet another key reason to teach your child about the importance of regular dental visits. Dental exams are one of the best ways to catch the signs of oral cancer, which can include small red sores or tiny white spots. Your dentist is trained to spot over 120 systemic diseases in the mouth. While you're on the topic, bring up any behaviors that may increase the risk for oral cancer, such as tobacco use.

The dangers of tobacco

In addition to the many negative impacts smoking has on overall health, it can cause major oral health problems. Men who smoke are more likely to lose their natural teeth: the average man will lose 5.4 teeth by age 72, while the average male smoker will lose 12 by the same age.

When you talk to your child about smoking, make sure he or she understands that chewing tobacco is also a threat to his or her oral health. Young people, especially young athletes, may try to dismiss the risks of smokeless tobacco, but the truth is that it can cause oral, esophageal and pancreatic cancer.

Chicago recently became one of five U.S. cities to ban tobacco at ballparks. If you and your child are sports fans, use the occasion to start a conversation about the dangers of tobacco, and how to stand up to peer pressure if his or her friends decide to start smoking or chewing.

The problems of using teeth as tools

Chances are you've used your teeth as a tool at least a few times, whether to tear open a package of snacks or loosen up a tight bottle cap. If your child has seen these habits, there is a chance he or she will mimic them, and this is a habit you don't want to pass on.

Make sure your child understands that using teeth as tools increases the risk for cracked or chipped teeth — which can even lead to the need for a root canal. Encourage your child to make thoughtful choices when he or she needs to open something tricky.

The need for a mouthguard

If you and your child like to toss a ball around on the weekends or watch sports games together, bring up the topic of mouthguards. You don't have to look far for examples of the importance of mouthguards. Last season, NBA players Dennis Schroder and Goran Dragic both damaged teeth in the middle of basketball games because they failed to wear mouthguards.

As your son or daughter grows up, whether they play an organized sport or have an individual hobby like skateboarding, they should always wear a mouthguard when there's a chance for tooth damage. Go beyond a conversation — take your child to the dentist for a custom mouthguard or buy the “boil-and-bite” style mouthguard, which is available at your local sporting goods store.

Have you already talked to your child about any of these oral health topics? Are you planning to do so? Tell us how you're starting conversations on Facebook and Twitter.

Help your child learn about the important connection between oral health and overall health with our free children's activities. You'll find Grin! for Kids, our oral health magazine for children, and Tooth Fairy activities and quizzes to learn good oral health habits to keep kids smiles happy and healthy for a lifetime. Learn more here.