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Using toothbrushes and books to prepare kids for kindergarten and beyond

How a child’s early literacy depends on these things and quality interaction with adults

By the end of 2017, our doctors will have handed out a quarter of a million children’s books to kids ages 0 to 5! They are enthusiastic participants of Reach Out and Read. And our organization is proud to be the largest clinic system to fully partake in the program.

When children get books at their well-child visits, families also get tips from the doctor on ways they can be their child’s first teacher. 90 percent of a child’s brain will have developed by the time he or she turns 5 years old. And this is also the time when a child’s brain can best absorb language.

“We encourage families to make it a habit to read, talk and sing with their little ones. Just 30 minutes a day of quality interaction can make a difference! It supports a child’s development. And it strengthens their ability to regulate emotions,” says pediatrician HealthPartners White Bear Lake Clinic.

Brush, Book, Bed

A consistent bed time and dental hygiene are also important for health in early childhood. And these things, combined with reading, are the basis for the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Brush, Book, Bed program. Kids love routines, so the program is based on 3 tips for creating a nighttime one:

  1. Each night, help your child brush their teeth
  2. Read a favorite book (or two!)
  3. Get to bed at a regular time each night

This program has also gotten our HealthPartners Dental Clinics on board to support early literacy. They are providing free toothbrushes that doctors will hand out at 9 month well-child visits. The toothbrushes will be paired with a children’s book. Some of them are even dental-themed, like Brush, Brush, Brush! or Pony Brushes His Teeth.

How is oral health connected to early literacy?

“Kids can start getting cavities at a very early age. And it’s pretty common that they do,” said Paul Musherure, DDS, who practices at our HealthPartners Dental Clinic in St. Paul. “This tooth decay can turn into a painful infection, and that can actually hinder a child from eating, talking, playing and learning.”

So Dr. Musherure urges families to stop cavities before they start!

How? Brush daily. Opt to drink water that’s fluoridated (like the tap water in lots of communities). And bring your child in for regular dental checkups. (The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends you bring your child to a dentist by their first birthday, or within 6 months of the time that their first tooth comes in.)

Among doing other things at checkups, a dentist will paint fluoride varnish on your child’s teeth. This should start when your child is 9 months old so that they get extra protection from tooth decay. HealthPartners doctors can also apply the varnish at well-child visits if your family is unable to get to a dental clinic.

Starting at age 5 or 6, parents may also want to consider dental sealants for their children. These are put on a child’s permanent molars and protect them from tooth decay for 2 to 4 years.

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