Tooth decay is a common, yet preventable, chronic disease for children. That’s why Blue Bear is on a mission to help kids form healthy habits that keep them smiling.

“What do we use our teeth for?” asked Angela Gonzales, a community health educator for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM).

Daisy Montaño attended the Blue Bear dental health presentation at the South Valley Library with her daughter Adelia.

Daisy Montaño attended the Blue Bear dental health presentation at the South Valley Library with her daughter Adelia.

Her audience, a group of children at the South Valley Library in Albuquerque, shared plenty of ideas. Eating, talking, smiling — the kids agreed that all these activities involve their teeth. And when Blue Bear walked into the room, the kids showed how they use their teeth to smile.

Blue Bear is BCBSNM’s health and wellness ambassador. Blue Bear’s job is to help promote healthy activities throughout New Mexico. Teaching good oral hygiene is part of Blue Bear’s mission.

The Blue Bear dental health program is a fun way for kids to learn about the importance of taking care of their teeth. During the presentation, children use a bear-sized toothbrush and teeth model to show Blue Bear the right way to brush and floss. Each child receives a dental health kit with toothpaste and a toothbrush they can take home.

“I think it’s really important that we get involved in children’s health, and oral health is such a big part of overall health,” Gonzales said.

Tooth decay is one of the most widespread chronic diseases for children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The New Mexico Office of Oral Health estimates that 64 percent of New Mexico’s third-graders experience tooth decay.

Dental disease, including cavities and gingivitis, may cause problems such as toothache, pain, infection and difficulty chewing. One study reported that a lack of good oral health is linked to more missed school days and lower grades.

Blue Bear helps community health educator Angela Gonzales demonstrate proper brushing techniques.

Blue Bear helps community health educator Angela Gonzales demonstrate proper brushing techniques.

To help address these issues, Blue Bear — with a little help from his BCBSNM family — encourages kids to start lifelong healthy habits, including brushing and flossing, eating healthy foods, and limiting sugar intake.

So far, more than 250 people in the Albuquerque metropolitan area have participated in the program.

Parent Daisy Montaño attended the Blue Bear dental health presentation at the South Valley Library with her daughter Adelia. “She loves Blue Bear,” Montaño said. “I think she’ll remember this every time she brushes her teeth, which is good. It’ll encourage her to brush her teeth and keep them clean.”