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Home > Health Topics > Healthy Outlook > A healthy life starts with a healthy smile

A healthy life starts with a healthy smile

Published by Contra Costa Times

Posted on Wednesday, February 2, 2011
By Dr. Diane Dooley

A child's smile is a beautiful thing. Although small, it is the gateway to a lifetime of health and good nutrition. Unfortunately, dental disease is the leading chronic and infectious disease—up to five times more common than asthma. Up to two-thirds of children seen by the Contra Costa Health Services Children's Oral Health Program needed treatment. That's a lot of youngsters with a problem that is preventable.

Good care of your child's baby teeth is important in preventing cavities later in life. Without proper care, many children suffer from pain, infection, school absences and poor nutrition.

February is Children's Dental Oral Health Month and a good time to take a look at what harms our children's oral health and what helps. Tooth decay is caused by bacteria that grow in your mouth. Sugary foods and drinks feed this bacteria and promote tooth decay. Brushing cleans them away.

If you want to prevent caries, you should brush your child's teeth at least twice a day. Give your children only tap water and milk to drink. Tap water helps because it contains fluoride. Also, take your child to the dentist after their first birthday. Tips to a healthier mouth include:

Prenatal care and infants
During pregnancy, visit your dentist and get your teeth cleaned. Moms should maintain good dental oral hygiene, as this may prevent passage of the bacteria to your child, and they should avoid saliva-sharing behaviors—such as sharing a spoon when tasting baby food or sharing drinks with your child. Start by breastfeeding your child—it's cheaper and better. Avoid all juices and sodas.

After feeding, rinse out the mouth and gums with a damp cotton cloth. Brush baby teeth with a soft-bristled brush. Finally, avoid letting the infant sleep with a bottle.

Children should eat healthy snacks instead of sweet or sticky foods. Healthy drinks, such as water and milk are best. Try to offer these in a cup and wean the child from the bottle by 15 months. Brush your child's teeth and rinse the mouth with water twice a day and after eating sweets and other sugary snacks. Young children need a small pea-sized amount of toothpaste on the brush.

Begin seeing a dentist twice a year after their first birthday. Tell the dentist about any brown or white spots on your child's teeth. This age is a good time to start flossing, can you make it fun? You should also ask your child's dentist about a fluoride varnish.

Preschool age
By preschool, your child may be brushing on his or her own. Continue doing it together until about age 7 to ensure a complete job.

School age
Your child will be given dental sealants at the dentist at this age, so it's important to continue to make regular dental visits. Ask your dentist or doctor about your child's dental health.

Here are some resources if you don't have a doctor or dentist: Denti-Cal, toll free at 800-322-6384; the Child Health and Disability Prevention Program at 925-313-6150, or the Children's Oral Health Program (925) 313-6280.

Dr. Dooley is a pediatrician with Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department.

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