Whisper n Thunder

You & Your Health

The Dental Health of Native American Children

Healthy Teeth and How to Have Them

Paula Raimondo, MLS, Medical Librarian


Tooth decay is the destruction of tooth enamel, the hard outer layer of a tooth.  When the enamel wears away, bacteria can get in and cause cavities. Tooth decay is a significant health problem in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children.

According to the 2010 Indian Health Service Oral Health Survey of American Indian and Alaska Native Preschool Children

  • Among AI/AN children between 2 to 4 years of age, tooth decay is five times the national average
  • Seven out of ten AI/AN children have untreated tooth decay, more than twice the rate of the general US population
  • Nine out of ten AI/AN teens have experienced tooth decay, three times the amount of untreated tooth decay than the general US population

Early prevention, before the age of two, is important in reducing tooth decay in all children, but many AI/AN preschool children are not getting the dental care they need.  More than two million of them live in US counties with shortages in the number of dental care workers. The Indian Health Service says that underfunding of the IHS has led to a decrease in the number of dentists who serve AI/AN people, and about 80% of practicing dentists in the US do not accept Medicaid insurance.

What can you do?  Find information about caring for children’s teeth here:

Healthy Mouths

            Watch a video showing kids how to brush, find information about kids’ teeth, and other helpful resources.

Healthy Teeth, Healthy Me

            From Sesame Street.  Caring for young children's teeth is an important part of keeping their bodies healthy—and it's never too early to get started. Strong first or baby teeth set the stage for strong permanent teeth, and help children play, learn, and grow. These tips and tools were designed to help you and your child care for her teeth together.

Improving Oral Health

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services developed the ‘Think Teeth” oral health education materials to help families choose good oral health habits. These free materials provide tips for pregnant women, parents, and caregivers. Find resources to promote good oral health and encourage families to enroll their eligible children in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. 

Mouth Healthy Kids:  

            A place to go for videos, games, quizzes, and activities for teachers and kids, created by the American Dental Association.  Dudley the Dinosaur brushes and flosses his teeth; the Sesame Street gang eats fruit and vegetables; kids go to the dentist and learn to take care of their teeth.

Oral Health

From Head Start. When children have a healthy mouth, they can speak more clearly, eat healthy foods, and feel good about themselves. A healthy mouth also means children can better focus and learn, have a pain-free mouth, and have fewer dental costs. Find resources on dental health, including a Brush Up on Oral Health newsletter, and oral health tips for families.

Oral Health Books for Children:

            These are books, written for kids under the age of seven, encourage them to take care of their teeth.  The list was developed for use by children’s dentists and dental hygienists, pediatricians, nurses, librarians and teachers.




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