Dental health starts early and lasts a lifetime

Posted 18 February 2014 at 12:00 am

By Nola Goodrich-Kresse, Public Health Educator for the Orleans County Health Department

Isn’t it fun watching children laughing and smiling? When anyone smiles or laughs in fun it usually lifts the spirit of those who can hear and see the person doing the laughing and smiling.

When someone is having problems with their teeth they don’t feel much like smiling or are embarrassed by the way their teeth or lack of teeth look.

How can you have a better smile? It really starts before you are born by making sure women who are pregnant eat fruits, vegetables and other foods rich in Vitamin D and calcium. Making sure you have good dental care practices before and during pregnancy go a long way in helping your child have strong teeth as they get older.

Taking care of a newborn’s mouth even before teeth are formed can set the stage for continued dental health care. Wiping a baby’s mouth with soft gauze or a clean wash cloth can prevent build up of acid in the mouth from the baby’s food and drink.

Never put a baby down for a nap or to bed with a bottle. Juice, formula and/or breast milk or sugar sweetened drinks causes baby bottle decay which can cause painful dental and tummy problems for the baby.

If your baby must have something to drink give baby a bottle of plain water. As soon as the first tooth appears start using a soft baby toothbrush (talk with your doctor or dentist about whether or not to use toothpaste). Introduce your baby to the dentist between 6 and 12 months of age.

Baby teeth are just as important as permanent teeth. As children get older it may seem a challenge to make sure they keep up with brushing their teeth properly. They may need to see you model good dental health.

Make sure you brush your teeth with your own soft toothbrush (no sharing here!) at least twice a day for about 2 minutes (longer if you have braces or other dental work) and flossing at least once a day. Make sure your whole family visits your dentist twice a year for cleanings and fluoride treatments for strong teeth and to catch any cavities before they get worse.

Consider dental sealants. Dental sealants are different from fillings. Fillings are used to fill in the space from a cavity where the plaque bacteria (the sticky film on your teeth) changes sugar and starch from food and drinks into harmful acids that attack tooth enamel.

Repeated attacks of this acid cause the enamel to break down causing a cavity, which in turn can lead to infections. Proper brushing and flossing helps to remove the acid from your teeth, however teeth that have grooves or deep pits, such as the molars (back teeth) may hold on to the plaque. This is where dental sealants come in to protect the back teeth from decay.

Sealants are easy to apply and only take a few minutes to seal each tooth.  A special thin, plastic coating is painted on each tooth after it is cleaned and prepared for the sealant. As long as the sealant remains intact, usually about five years or more, the tooth surface will be protected from decay. Make sure you and your child continue proper brushing, flossing and rinsing as well as visiting your dentist regularly to keep the sealants working to prevent tooth decay.

It is important to protect your teeth no matter how old you are. Having an unhealthy mouth can affect your overall body’s health. Poor oral health, tooth loss and gum disease, can be connected to heart disease, diabetes, cancer and strokes.

Eating healthful foods that have calcium and vitamin D help teeth grow properly.  Limit sticky, sweet snacks that encourage the bacterial plaque to make acid attacks on tooth enamel. Talk with your doctor or dentist about fluoride supplements to help build strong enamel.